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Tlus iNMik should be returned on or Ix^f'on* the/date last marked below. 

THE CHASE. Misericords from i. Ely Cathedral (ijth cent.) ; 

2. Boston^ Lines, (late iqth cent.) ; j. Beverky 

Minstir (early i6th cent.} 


The <[Njms Pries fs 





London Edinburgh Glasgow New York 
Toronto Melbourne Capetown Bornb;iy 

Calcutta Madias 




KJ38, KJ40 



IN preparing this edition I have had in mind the 
needs of schools and colleges who keep up the 
good practice of studying a few short texts minutely, 
and of including The Nun's Priest's Tale among 
them. As not many users of the edition will come to 
it with a grounding in medieval literature, or with an 
adequate library at hand, it seemed best to give a 
minimum of references to books and articles, and to 
include a good deal of elementary matter which those 
who do not need it may pass over. 

The notes of Tyrwhitt, Skeat, and Mr. Pollard (in 
his separate edition) have eased the way for com- 
mentators on this tale ; and Mr. Griffith's Bibliography 
of Chaucer igo8-K)2^ (Washington 1936) has been 
my guide to some recent articles. Mere difficulty of 
access has prevented me from using Miss Petersen's 
thorough study of the sources as much as I could 
have wished, but I have gone over again points of 
difference in the results. 

For help in obtaining the illustrations from carvings, 
I am obliged to the authorities at Bcverley Minster, 
Boston (Lines.), Carlisle, and Ely, and to the photo- 
graphers, the Rev. W. E. Wigfall, and Messrs. G. E. 
Hackford, F. W. Tassall, and G. H. Tyndall. Canon 
Christopher Wordsworth very kindly gave me an 
account of the early fox carvings in the Chapter House 
at Salisbury, but they were much broken before 
restoration, and they throw no light on our story. 











A Canterbury pilgrim's sign with the head of St. Thomas cover 
Misericords showing the Chase frontispiece 

(i) From Ely ; left support, a Fox preaches to a Cock nnd 
Geese; centre, Woman with distaH" pursues Fox, who is 
carrying a Cock (?) on his hack. (2) From Boston, Lines. : 
the captured bird appears to be a Goose. (3) From 
Ueverley Minster : left support, two Foxes conspiring ; 
centre, Woman with distal! comes out of her cottage to 
pursue a Fox who has a Goose on his back ; right support ', 
Fox holding the Goose. 

Marie of France reading her poems. Note the study fur- 
niture (MS. Vatican Ottob. 3064, fourteenth century) xii 

Reynard and Tiecelin, the Cheese falling (MS. Douce 

360, fourteenth century) xviii 

The Chase the Cock has escaped (MS. Douce 360) xxi 

The Pilgrims' Way to Canterbury xxxvi 

Chaucer on Pilgrimage (Kllesmere MS.) xxxix 

The Monk with a Hound (Ellesmere MS.) I 

The Knight (Ellesmere MS.) 3 

The Nun's Priest (Ellesmere MS.) 5 

The Beginning of the Prologue to the Tale in the Elles- 
mere MS, 24 

Misericord from Carlisle Cathedral (early fifteenth century) 




S TORIES of animals arc found in every corner of 
Europe and Asia. From Africa negro slaves 
brought the matter of Uncle RCJHUS to the 
American plantations ; and in the remote South Seas, 
where the more genial four-footed beasts were un- 
known, the natives found entertainment in the collo- 
quies of a lizard and a codfish. Nor is their appeal 
limited to children and simple folk ; for Goethe retold 
the story of Reynard the Fox, 1 and Socrates occupied 
his last days in versifying the fables of Aesop. 

The literary _p_cdjgrcc of the Nun's Priest's Talc 
begins with this Aesop, a Phrygian slave of the sixth 
century P>. C. But the Greek fables that pass under 
his name arc a miscellaneous collection of much later 
date, and they have little of the freshness one would 
expect from his legendary reputation. The fact is 
that Aesop's Fables became a school-book. They 
were revised, supplemented, versified, and translated 
by many imitators, some nameless, and some like 
Phaedrus, Babrius and Avianus, who are little more 
than names. Generations of schoolboys did exercises 
on them, retold them in prose, or turned them into 
verse ; and it is no wonder they became trite with 
hard use. Anyhow, one of the best known of Aesop's 
Fables 2 gives us a starting-point, though it must not be 

1 Keineke Fueksj 1/94. 

2 In the edition ot the Aesopic Fables by A. Chambry, Paris 1926, 
texts of this fable are given at pp. 285-7. ^ ^ referred to by Horace, 
Satires ii. v. 56 ; and it is the second fable of La Fontaine. 

viii The Nuns Priest's Tale 

supposed that Chaucer's story derives from it in the 
direct line: we can only note the historical outcrop- 
pings of a theme whose main development is beyond 
the reach of records : 

A Crow sitting in a tree and eating a piece of meat (' cheese ' 
in another version) is approached by a hungry Fox, who praises 
its plumage and declares that it would be the first among birds 
if only it could sing. The Crow, much flattered, opens its beak 
to sing and drops the morsel, which the Fox snaps up. 

This may seem remote from the tale of the Cock and 
the Fox, but the analogy becomes clearer when 
Chaucer's story is reduced to its framework of two 
similar tricks : (i) The Fox flatters the Cock into 
singing with eyes shut, so that he is caught ; and (ii) 
the Cock flatters his captor into shouting back at the 
pursuers, and escapes as the Fox opens his mouth. 1 

In Western Europe Greek books were closed books 
throughout the Middle Ages, and Aesop's Fables 
were known chiefly through the medium of two Latin 
versifiers : Phaedrus, ' the freedman of Augustus ', 
who wrote Tn the first century A. l)., and Avianus, who 
belongs perhaps to the fourth century A. D. 2 For a 
time their collections were preserved by the lingering 
tradition of the Roman schools ; but they took on a 
new life in the eighth century, when Charles the Great 
gave his support to a revival of letters. The spirit of 
this revival (which was undertaken less for the sake of 
the classics themselves than as a necessary preliminary 

1 The attempt to connect our story with Aesop's fable of the Cock, 
Dog, and Fox is a failure. There is no historical contact, because this 
particular fable is omitted from the medieval collections ; and the 
stories are radically unlike. It explains nothing to say that Aesop's 
Dog, who is the Cock's guardian and kills the Fox, develops into * Colle 
our dogge, and Talbol and Gcrland ', who join a quite ineffective chase. 
Any farmyard cur would do that without needing an example in classical 

8 Both edited, with their Latin derivatives, by L. Hervieux, Les 
Fabulistes Latins, 5 vols., Paris 1893-9. 

Introduction i x 

to the study of the Bible and the Fathers) fostered 
the development of fables. If they were useful in the 
teaching of Latin, they were still more useful for the 
teaching of moral lessons; and from this time onwards 
the ' moral ', which is implied rather than expressed in 
the classical fables, became more and more prominent. 
It so happens that while Avianus does not approach 
our story, and Phacdrus is content to hand on the 
fable of the Crow and the Fox, Alcuin of York (d. tf 04), 
who was Charles's right hand, carries us a step for- 
ward in his Latin verses on the Cock and the Wolf. 1 

A Cock, who ventures too far when looking for food, is caught 
by a \Yolf. With great presence of mind, he mentions the 
report he lias heard of the Wolf's wonderful voice, and says he 
does not mind being eaten so much as losing the chance of 
verifying this report. The Wolf opens wide his jaws to show 
off his voice, and the Cock, escaping to a high branch, chides 
him for his folly in shouting before he has dined. 

This is > in essentials, the second trick. 

Soon after Alcuin's time, Latin prose renderings of 
Phaedrus's verse eclipsed their original. By far the 
most influential of these is attributed to a shadowy 
Romulus, who is sometimes dignified by the title of 
'Emperor*, though his empire does not extend 
beyond the realm of fable. This collection, made 
perhaps in the ninth century, and undergoing many 
modifications in the course of time, plays the chief 
part in the spread of fables during the later Middle 
Ages. But its direct contribution to our story is 
slight, for the early form of Romulus 2 seems to con- 
tain nothing more apposite than Phaedrus's version of 
the Crow and the Fox. 

Another Latin prose version is more helpful. In 

1 Kd. Diimmlcr, Monument a Germaniat Historica: Poetae Aevi 
Carolini i, p. 262. 

2 Several versions are printed and compared by ilervieux, Les 
I^abulistcs Latins^ vols. i and ii. 

x The Nuns Priest's Tale 

1034 Adhemar, a monk of the Abbey of St. Martial 
at Limoges, died in Jerusalem, whither he had gone 
some years before. One of the books he left behind 
at the Abbey included a collection of fables copied 
with his own hand, and it is now MS. Vossianus 
Latinus 8vo, no. 15 in the Leyden Library. This 
collection 1 consists in the main of crude adaptations 
from Phaedrus, among which is the Crow and the 
Fox. But it contains some fables found neither in 
Phaedrus nor in any other ancient source, and to this 
group belongs the Fox and the Partridge : 

A Fox came up to a Partridge on her perch and said ' How 
beautiful are your face, your legs, your coral beak ! Yet you would 
look more beautiful still in your sleep.' The Partridge closed 
her eyes, and the Fox promptly seized her. The Partridge then 
implores the Fox to pronounce her name once more before he 
eats her, and when he opens his mouth to say ' Partridge ', she 
escapes. ' Alas ! ' says the Fox, ' what need had I to speak ? ' 
' Alas ! ' replies the Partridge, ' what need had 1 to close my eyes 
when I wasn't sleepy '. 

How Adhemar came by this story we do not know. 
But here is the eye-shutting trick played by a fox on 
a bird, together with the mouth-opening trick by which 
the tables are turned ; and the combination of old 
motives must have taken place before the year 1029, 
when Adhemar set out for the Holy Land. 

The next record shows an advance in story- tell ing. 
The Brussels MS. 10708, fol. 172 2 contains, in a hand 
that seems to be of the second half of the twelfth 
century, the Latin poem Galhts et Vulpcs? which was 
probably composed earlier in the same century : 

A hungry Fox finds a Cock crowing on his dunghill and too 

1 Ed. Ilcrvieux, ii, p. 142. 

2 I owe the identification of this MS. to the courtesy of the director 
of the Bibliotheque Royale, M. Paris. 

8 Printed in JMteinische Gedichtedes X. undXLJh.^^ J. Grimm and 
A. Schmeller, Gottingen 1838, p. 345 ff. 

Introduction xi 

vigilant to be caught. So he tries flattery. 'Your father used 
to dance as he crew perhaps you can't do that ? ' The Cock 
comes nearer, crowing and dancing giddily. ' Why ', he asks, 
should I be thought a degenerate son?' * Wonderful ! ' replies 
the Fox : 'your father lives again in you. Hut he used to shut 
his right eye.' ' I do the same ', says the Cock, and adds that 
to his performance. The Fox falls flat, overcome with admira- 
tion. 'Who could believe it? You would even excel him if 
you shut both eyes.' The Cock docs it, and is caught. 
Neighbours begin the chase, crying * The Fox has got the 
Cock! Help, or the paragon of birds will perish !' The Fox 
is well away, when the Cock has a plan : ' Let my death be 
honourable. The pursuers say you have stolen me, and don't 
recognize your marvellous wit. Put me clown and say "I am 
taking what is my own, not yours". Then I shall die happy.' 
The Fox carries out the suggestion and the Cock flies away. 
' A plague on the unruly tongue ! ' cries the Fox. ' And a plague 
on the eyes that shut when they should see ', says the Cock. 
A long religious interpretation follows. 

To reach English soil we must leave Latin behind 
and follow the fable into vernacular literature. To- 
wards the end of the twelfth century, Marie of France, 
who was one of the brilliant group of writers attached 
to the court of Henry II, wrote in French verse an 
Ysopet (' little Aesop') or collection of fables, which 
includes the following: 1 

My tale is of a Cock who stood on a dunghill and crew. 
A Fox came by and addressed him with smooth words: * Sir, 1 
he said, ' how handsome you are ! I never saw so fine a bird ! 
Your voice is surpassingly clear, and no bird ever sang better 
saving your father whom I knew ; but he crew better still 
because he shut his eyes. 1 ' I can do that,' says the Cock. 
He beats his wings and shuts his eyes tightly, thinking to crow 
more clarion clear. The Fox made a spring, seized him, and 
ran oft" towards the wood. The shepherds chased him across 
a field ; the dogs barked all about him. * There goes the Fox,' 
they cry, ' he has the Cock ! ' * Come,' says the Cock, * shout 
back to them that I am yours and you won't let me go.' The 
Fox tried to shout his loudest, and the Cock, slipping from his 

1 Die Fabeln der Marie de France, ed. Karl Warnke (liibliotheca 
Normannica), Halle 1898, p. 

xii The Nuns Priest's Tale 

mouth, flew into a high tree. The Fox, in his rage, began to 
curse the mouth that speaks when it should be still. ' And I ', 
replied the Cock, ' have cause to curse the eye that winks when 
it should keep watch and ward against harm that may come 
upon its master. 1 

In her Prologue Marie mentions < Romulus the 
Emperor ', and most of her stories come from Romulus, 

Marit of France reading her poems. 

though this particular one does not. 1 In an Epilogue 
she gives a more circumstantial account of her sources : 
Aesop translated the fables from Greek into Latin ; 
King Alfred, who liked them well, turned them into 
English ; and Marie herself turned them from English 
into French verse. Now it is as certain that King 
Alfred did not translate the fables into English as 
that Aesop did not translate them into Latin. 2 But 

1 It occurs in the ' Anglo-Latin Romulus ' (Hervieux, ii, p. 598) ; 
but there it appears to be derived from Marie. 

3 In the twelfth century Alfred's reputation for wisdom stood high, 
and another popular compilation of the time, the ' Proverbs of Alfred ', 
is attributed to him on no better grounds. 

Introduction xiii 

Marie's testimony carries more weight when she says 
she translated from English. Kither this is mere 
literary mystification (improbable, though not im- 
possible in the century of Geoffrey of Monmouth) or 
there was once a fable collection in English which has 
been wholly lost. And as there is slight internal 
evidence in support of Marie's statement, the latter 
alternative should be preferred. 1 Did this English 
version contain our story as it appears in Marie ? We 
do not know, and even if we could prove that it did, 
we should not be much the wiser. The source of the 
details in her version, and in Gallnset Vitlpes before it, 
seems to be the story of Reynard the Eox as it grew 
up in France during the twelfth century. 


The twelfth century stands out as a lively and 
creative age in Western Europe, whether it is judged 
by great movements (such as the rise of a new archi- 
tecture, of universities, of a multitude of new literary 
forms and kinds in the vernacular) or by its results in 
some tiny detail, as when it gives new life to the dry 
bones of a fable that had been chewed unprofitably for 
centuries before. What happy combination of cir- 
cumstances unlocked this abounding vitality it is 
impossible to say. But one aspect is suggested by 
the history we have just traced. Preceding ages had 
always before them the model of Rome in her days of 
greatness. Those who cared for literature imitated 
the Latin classics ; and by using a dead language and 
the forms and subjects of a past civilization, they cut 

1 See a valuable article by E. Mall in Zcitschrift fur romanische 
Philologic, vol. ix. 

xiv The Nuns Priest's Tale 

themselves off from the mass of the people. Once it 
was realized that an author could express the things 
that interested his contemporaries in his own language 
and in the forms that suited it, expression led with 
amazing swiftness to fuller and better expression. A 
literature arose that was popular in the sense that the 
whole people nobles, clergy, traders, artisans, peasants 
could share in it ; for while works (other than learned 
works) circulated orally rather than by the medium of 
books, inability to read was not a bar to the enjoyment 
of poetry, and inability to write did not prevent a 
man who had something worth telling from adding it 
to the common stock. 

There is a change, too, in the purpose of authors. 
For many centuries the view of the Church that 
literature should instruct had prevailed against the 
example of the classics ; but now, with the growth of 
a minstrel class who lived by catering for the varied 
tastes of the people, a considerable number of works 
appear which have no other object than entertainment. 

One more change concerns us closely : a new interest 
in natural things, particularly in birds and animals, is 
a sign of the break with the past. Granted that they 
fell far short of modern precision and range of observa- 
tion, that they soon relapsed into convention, and that 
their curiosity was easily satisfied by absurdities such 
as those reported in Physiologus and the derived 
Bestiaries ; still writers of the twelfth and thirteenth 
centuries give ample evidence of a fresh and sym- 
pathetic outlook on nature, which finds expression too 
in painting and the ornaments of architecture. 

These are some of the conditions under which the 
cycle of animal stories grew up that bears the name 
of Reynard the Fox, its principal character ; and they 
are not satisfied by the old fables in which a Partridge, 
a Fox, a Cock, play their parts with the dispassionate 

Introduction xv 

efficiency of the points A, B y C in a proposition of 
Euclid. In the French ' beast epic ' a fresh draft on 
the memory and imagination of the people produces 
many stories new to literature, as well as variations of 
the old ; the animals are described in their own shapes 
and with their own habits, but whimsical effects are 
obtained by giving them the thoughts and speech of 
men ; they are no longer types, but have character 
and 'personality'; and they have proper names, some 
of which have a claim to immortality: men's names 
like Reynard^ the FQX, Isengrim the Wolf, Bruin the 
Bear, ~ TTEert the Cat ; or descriptive names like 
Chantecler the ' clear-voiced ' ock, Couart the ' timid ' 
Hare, Noble the Lion. ^J^^yCU^ * , 

The first trace of the cycle in history is a mention 
of Isengrim by Guibert de Nogent (d. circa 1125) : 
Waldric, Bishop of Laon, was accustomed to give a 
villainous-looking fellow called Teudegald the nick- 
name Isengrim, ' because of his wolfish face '. It seems 
to have rankled, for Teudegald recalled the insult 
when he found the Bishop hiding in a cask in the 
cellar of his church, and beat him unmercifully. 2 This 
was in the year 1112. 

Isengrim the Wolf is again prominent in the earliest 
surviving treatment of the cycle the Latin poem 
Ysengrimiis? written by Nivard in the year 1148, 
probably at Ghent. Nivard is so far old-fashioned that 
he uses the animal stories to point a heavy satire 

1 In French renard has become the common name of the fox. Like 
all men's names in the cycle, it is German in origin, Old High German 
Reginhartt 'the very bold* ; for at this time Frankish proper names were 
usual in France. But Gaston Paris has suggested that the cycle arose 
on the borders of the Rhine, for the personal name Isengrim, ' iron- 
mask ', is not recorded west of Lorraine, and some minor names have 
similar geographical limits. 

2 Migne, Patrologia Latina^ vol. clvi, col. 927 , 
8 Edited by Ernst Voigt, Halle 1884. 

xvi The Nuns Priest's Tale 

against corruption in the religious orders ; but his 
poem proves the existence of a connected series of 
tales; and among them, at the end of the Fourth 
Book, appears the story of Reynard the Fox and the 
Cock, who is called Sprotinus, probably because the 
name Chantecler was not yet fixed in tradition. 

Sprotinus is lord of a dozen hens, and proud of his crowing. 
Reynard comes in the dress of a pilgrim, and though the Cock 
is suspicious, induces him by taunts to follow the example of his 
father and to crow, first standing on one leg with one eye shut, 
then with both eyes shut. Reynard grabs him ; the rustics give 
chase ; the Cock persuades him to shout back defiance, and 
escapes from his jaws, leaving him to curse his foolish mouth. 

Thirty or forty years after Nivard's Ysengrimus* an 
Alsatian, Heinrich Glichezare, wrote his Rein hart 
Fnchs^ a German poem of some 2,000 lines, which 
recounts the principal episodes of the Reynard cycle, 
beginning with the story of Reynard and Chantecler. 
Heinrich's ReinJiart is in the main a translation and 
abridgement of French originals ; but it is important 
because for the first time it tells the tales without any 
didactic purpose, and because it is earlier, and in some 
respects more primitive, than any extant French 
version. In the part that concerns us, Rein hart Fucks 
is much nearer to Chaucer than the works noticed 
hitherto ; but as it cannot be proved that Chaucer 
used aversion nearer in any significant detail to Hein- 
rich's poem than to the French Roman de Renard* 
whereas the converse is true in some points, we may 
pass on at once to the French Roman. 

The Roman de Renard' 6 is a collection of over 
twenty ' branches ', composed (for the most part) in 
the north of France by various poets of the late 
twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. Each branch 
tells a story or a connected group of stories, but there 

1 Edited by K. Reissenberger, Halle 1886. 

2 See III below. s Ed. E. Martin, Strasbourg 1882-7. 

Introduction xvii 

is no ordered sequence of branches : the Roman grew 
up, and was not built to a design. Its kernel seems 
to be the story of the quarrel between Reynard and 
Ysengrim. Upon this the adventures of Reynard with 
other animals were easily grafted ; and finally some 
episodes were added in which Reynard is not con- 
cerned. Thus the whole work is a loosely assembled 
body of animal tales in verse, saved from complete 
incoherence by the presiding genius of Reynard, and 
by the common desire of the authors to ' give delight 
and hurt not'. 1 

The Second Branch, which alone concerns us, is a 
favourable specimen. After a prologue which promises 
the story of the war between the barons Reynard and 
Ysengrim, it begins with Reynard and Chantccler, to 
whom we shall return. Disconsolate at the loss of his 
dinner, Reynard meets the Tomtit and varies the old 
trick, promising to shut his eyes while the Tomtit 
kisses him ; but the Tomtit evades his snap and pushes 
a handful of moss into his mouth. Next he finds 
Tibert the Cat alone at play, frisking and chasing his 
tail ; and from sheer malice devises a sport that will 
lead Tibert into a trap. Tibert, however, notices the 
trap, and hounds coming up unexpectedly drive Rey- 
nard himself into it. He escapes with a mangled paw, 
and comes upon Tiecelin the Crow, who is gulping 
down a cheese he has stolen from an old woman. 
Reynard persuades him to sing in the manner of his 

1 It is often said that an idea underlies all the adventures of Reynard 
that his guile succeeds against the strong (e.g. Ysengrim or Bruin) 
and fails against the weak (e.g. Chantecler). This is an uncon- 
sidered result, not a motive. Reynard does succeed against the 
weak when his object is not to kill : he gets ihe cheese from Tiecelin 
the Crow. He fails when his desire is to kill, and the stronger animals 
fail against him, because the medieval story-tellers were skilled enough 
in their art to know that it is unwise to dispose of the characters while 
the story is still popular, and that amusement is not easily extracted fiono 
the destruction of the weak by the strong. 

xviii The Nuns Priest's Tale 

father Rohart ; and after two trials declares that he 
would be the finest singer in the world if only he would 
avoid nuts in his diet. ' One more try/ he begs, and 

i m m & u- m 4 1 . i 

m * 


# *; * 

Reynard and Tiecclin. 

in a last effort Tiecelin lets the cheese slip from his 
claws. 1 After these diversions Reynard carries on the 
war, which is his main business, by playing an impu- 
dent trick on Ysengrim. 

1 Note that the compiler of this branch recognized the kinship of the 
Crow story and the Cock story, and assimilated them by making the 
Crow, too, sing after the model of his father. In Branch ix, 1. 570, 
there is a further assimilation : Tiecelin's father is called Chanteclin 
('he who sings with closed eyes'), which is the name of Chantecler's father. 

Introduction xix 

Now that we have seen what the branch contains, 
let us turn back to its first story, and, for convenience, 
deal with some 450 lines of the French by a mixture of 
translation, paraphrase, and abridgement : 

Reynard makes his way to a village in a wood, where there 
are many cocks and hens, geese and ducks. His special object 
is a favourite spot of his the yard of a rich farmer, Constant 
des Noes, who is abundantly stocked with poultry, salt meat 
and bacon, good cherries and apples. The yard is well fenced 
with oak palings and thorn hurdles ; and Reynard can find no 
way through. Yet he knows that if he jumps over, the hens 
will see him, and run for shelter under the thorns. At last he 
finds a broken paling, slips over, and hides among the cabbages. 
But the hens catch sight of him and run for safety. 

Their flurry rouses Chantecler, who is enjoying a, dust-bath in 
a track near the wood, and he walks proudly in, stretching his 
neck and trailing his wings, to inquire why they ran to the 
house. His favourite Pinte, 'she who laid the big eggs', 
replies 'We were frightened*. 'Why? what did you see? 1 
' Some wild beast who would harm us if we did not take shelter.' 
'It's nothing, I'll swear,' said the Cock. 'Don't be afraid; 
you're quite safe here.' ' But I saw it this very minute/ Pinte 
insisted. ' Saw what ? ' 'I saw the fence shake and the 
cabbage leaves tremble where it lies.' ' Pinte,' said the Cock, 
'no more of this. No fox or polecat would dare come into this 
yard. A mere illusion, my dear, I assure you ; so come back/ 
And back he went himself to his dust-bath, and there settled 
down, one eye open and one shut, one leg outstretched, the other 
doubled up. 

Wearied of watching and crowing, he slept, and dreamed that 
there was something in the yard clad in a red fur-coat fringed 
with bone ; and it thrust the coat upon him to his great dis- 
comfort, for the collar was very tight. He starts up in terror: 
' Holy Spirit/ he prays, ' save my body from prison this day 
and keep me safe'; and then, all his assurance gone, runs to 
where the hens are hiding under the thorns, and tells Pinte that 
he is in great dread of some wild beast or bird. ' Avoy ! sweet 
sir/ says Pinte, ' you must not talk like that and frighten us so. 
By all the saints, you are like a dog that howls before the stone 
hits him ! Why are you so frightened ? ' 'I have had a strange 
dream', answers the Cock, 'and an ill-omened I That is why 
you see me so pale. I shall tell you every detail ' (and he goes 
on to tell of the beast with the red fur-coat). ' Do you know 


xx The Nuns Priest's Tale 

what it signifies ?' * Please God it turn out false ! ' says Pinte, 
' but I can interpret it. The beast with the red fur-coat is the 
Fox ; the fringe of bone is his teeth ; the tight collar his mouth ', 
&c, * and he will get you by the neck before mid-day is past. I 
advise you to come back, for I know he is lying in wait for you 
behind that clump of cabbages.' ' Pinte,' said he, ' this is 
folly, and it is unworthy of you to say that the beast is in this 
yard who shall take me by force. Curse him who believes it ! 
for I won't believe this dream portends any harm to me.' * God 
grant it may be so,' replied Pinte, ' yet if what I say is false, let 
me be no more your love.' 

Chantecler laughs off the dream, goes back to his dust-bath, 
and begins to doze again. When he has settled down, Reynard 
creeps nearer, makes a spring, misses, and sees Chantecler jump 
to safety on the dunghill. Reynard is chagrined, but immedi- 
ately sets his brain to work. * Don't run away, Chantecler,' he 
cries, * it is I, your own cousin.' Chantecler crew with relief. 
' Do you remember your father Chanteclin ? ' asks Reynard. 
' No cock ever crew like him : one could hear him a league 
away when he crew with both eyes shut.' * You aren't trying to 
trick me, cousin Reynard ? ' asks Chantecler. ' Indeed no ! 
Try crowing with your eyes shut. We are one flesh and blood, 
and I would rather lose a paw than see you harmed/ * J don't 
believe you,' says Chantecler, ' so please stand a little faither 
off, and I will crow for you.' ' A high note, then ! ' says 
Reynard, smiling. Chantecler crew once, with one eye shut and 
the other open, for he was suspicious of Reynard, and often 
looked his way. * That 's nothing,' says Reynard, ' Chanteclin 
did not crow like that. He shut both eyes and held his note so 
that he could be heard twenty fields away.' Chantecler, con- 
vinced, shuts both eyes to crow. At once Reynard jumps out 
from under a red cabbage, seizes him by the neck, and off he 
goes delighted with his prize. 

Pinte is beside herself with grief at the sight : * Sir, now my 
warning proves true, and you laughed at me and called me a 
fool ! Your pride was your ruin ! Alas ! I die of grief, for if I 
lose my lord I lose my honour for ever ! ' 

The good wife opened the door, for it was evening, and called 
in Pinte, Rosette, and Rise, but no hen came. Then, as she 
called the Cock loudly, she saw Reynard going off with him, and 
went to the rescue. Reynard increased his pace, and when she 
saw she could not catch him, she gave the alarm with a full- 
throated * Harrow ! ' The farm-hands ran to find out what was 
the matter. ' Alas ! ' she said, ' disaster has come upon me.' 



'How? 7 'I have lost my Cock the Fox has taken him/ 
' Old slattern ! ' cried Constant, * why didn't you catch the Fox ? ' 
1 By all the saints, I couldn't/ ' Why not ? ' ' He wouldn't wait 
for me/ ' But you could hit him ? ' ' What with ? ' ' With this 
stick/ * Indeed I couldn't: he ran so fast that two Breton hounds 

The Chase. 

couldn't have caught him/ * Which way?' 'That way, just 
there/ The farm-hands ran shouting ' There he is ! There he is ! ' 
Just then Reynard reached the opening and jumped down with 
such a thud that the pursuers heard him. ' There he is ! There he 
is ! ' they cry. 4 After him/ shouts Constant, and calls his dog 
Mauvoisin. ' After him, Bardolph, Travers, Humbaut, Rebors ! ' 
They get sight of Reynard, and shout * There goes the Fox '. 
Now Chantecler is in great peril, and needs all his wits. 

xxii The Nuns Priest's Tale 

* Reynard,' he says, * can't you hear the insults these men are 
shouting at you ? When Constant shouts " Reynard has him " 
why not mock him by answering " in your despite " ? ' Reynard's 
cunning for once was at fault. * In your despite ! ' he yelled, and 
as the Cock felt his jaws relax, he beat his wings, and flew into 
an apple-tree. Then he laughed at Reynard, who stood below 
disgusted at his own folly : * Reynard/ he said, 'what do you 
think of it all ? ' Reynard quivered with rage : * Cursed be the 
mouth ', he said, ' that makes a noise when it should be silent.' 

* And ', says the Cock, * I say a plague on the eyes that sleep 
when they ought to keep watch ! ' Then Chantecler rates 
Reynard for his perfidy and bids him be off before he loses his 
skin. Reynard runs on dejected at the loss of his dinner. 

This is the Roman de Renard at its best. The 
subsequent history of the cycle in France is one of 
rapid decline in the hands of didactic writers, who 
represent Reynard as the embodiment of evil, and 
gradually crush the gaiety out of his adventures by 
loading them with crude satire, or moral lessons, or 
still less relevant instruction. 1 Before the end of the 
fourteenth century the subject was exhausted and dis- 
carded in French literature. Probably the best of the 
separate stories were repeated until they sank back 
to the level of folk tales ; but the cycle lived on 
in European literature through an early thirteenth- 
century Flemish version, 2 which spread eastward into 
Germany to be the basis of Reineke Fuchs (Goethe's 

1 The three later French versions are : 

(i) Le Couronnement Renard, written soon after 1250, in which 
Reynard, who is the type of successful hypocrisy and wickedness, 
succeeds the Lion as King of the Beasts. 

(ii) Renard le Nouveau, written by GeMe of Lille about 1300, 
which tells of the unsuccessful war of Noble the Lion, representing 
Virtue, against Reynard, representing Vice. 

(iii) Renard It Contrefait (ed. G. Raynaud and H. Lemaitre, Paris 
1914), written at Troyes early in the fourteenth century by a merchant 
who had been a clerk. Here satire and morality are combined with all 
manner of irrelevant information. 

8 Van den Vos Reinaerde, ed. E. Martin, Paderborn, 1874. 

Introduction xxiii 

original) and westward into England as Caxton's His- 
tory* of Reynart the 


The tracing of sources is chiefly valuable because it 
shows how deeply Chaucer's work is rooted in the 
past But if any one hopes to account for all the 
details of his version by long hunting among his pre- 
decessors, it is a vain hope. Invention usually baffles 
this kind of investigation, and it is seldom possible to 
do more with safety than say that a turn or incident is 
in this text and not in that. To go further and explain 
the relations between two texts, such as the Renard 
story and the Nun's Priest's Tale, involves a good deal 
of conjecture. 

At the outset some questions suggest themselves. 
(i) Did Chaucer know the Roman de Renard ? Observe 
the difference in the names : Chantecjer, Pinte, Renard, 
in the Roman ; Chantecler, Pertelote, Russell, in 
Chaucer. That Pinte should take another French 
name is perhaps not very important, though it is a 
break with well-established tradition. But it is no 
small matter that the famous Reynard, whom the 
imagination of French poets a century before had 
raised to the lordship of the world, should be given 
a mere descriptive name Russell ' the red ', 2 which in 

1 ' I have not added ne mynusshed (diminished), but have folowed as 
nyghe as I can my copye whiche was in Dutche, and by me William 
Caxton translated into this rude and symple Englyssh, in th'abbey of 
Westmestre fynysshed the vi daye of Juyn, the yere of our lord 
MCCCCLXXXI.' From the Epilogue, ed. Arber, London 1880. 

2 Russell is the name of one of Reynard's children in Caxton's version 
from the Flemish. But there is no reason to think that Chaucer (or a 
predecessor) borrowed the name, which is an obvious one for a red 
thing or person. 

xxiv The Nuns Priest's Tale 

the Roman belongs to the obscure red squirrel. The 
substitution is hardly credible if Chaucer took his 
matter directly from the Reynard cycle : it indicates 
that his source was a story detached from the cycle, 
in which Chantecler had become the chief actor, and 
Reynard, stripped of his personality and the prestige 
of his other exploits, had sunk back to be just a wily 
fox. Then it would be natural enough for Chaucer to 
give the fox a current name with no literary traditions 
behind it, like 4 Colle oure dogge* and the c sheep that 
highte Malle'. And Pinte, too, may have become 
anonymous before she attained to the dignity of 
4 Madame Pertelote V 

This indication is confirmed when we find that 
Chaucer only once in his works names Reynard, and 
there it is a common name for the fox. 2 He does not 
refer to any other incident in the Roman de Renard. 
And the case is the same with the two great con- 
temporary poems Piers P lew man and Gower's Con- 
fessio Amantis in which the authors had opportunity 
to mention anything that was much in their thoughts. 
It is hard to resist the conclusion that the Reynard 
cycle had gone out of fashion in England, as it had in 
France, by the latter half of the fourteenth century. 3 
The separate stories may have lived on ; and though 
there is not much doubt that all were told in England 

1 'It is ful faire to been y-clept Madame\ and more honour still to 
give a name to a long: line of partlets. 

2 Legend of Good Women, 1. 2448. 

8 The representations in carving require further investigation ; but 
where several scenes of the Reynard story appear, e.g. at Bristol, the 
subjects and the late date indicate that they derive from Caxton's version. 
Some late fourteenth-century and early fifteenth-century carvings have 
a goose instead of a cock, which shows that their relation with the 
Roman de Rcnard is not close. It is worth noting that the distaff which 
appears in Chaucer 1. 618, in The False Fox (note to 1. 569), in all the 
carvings of the chase, and in some illustrations of the Roman (e.g. 
that reproduced at p. xxi), is not specified in the Roman itself, nor 
is there a trace of it in the other literary versions. 

Introduction xxv 

at one time or another, it happens that the cycle is 
represented in the extant remains of Middle English 
by two stories only the thirteenth-century Fox and 
Wolf 1 and Chaucer's Nun's Priest's Tale. Caxton, 
as we have seen, had to go to Flanders for his Reynard 
the Fox. Chaucer may never have known the cycle 
as a whole. 

(ii) What was the language of Chaucer's source? 
The evidence for a French original is clear: Avoil 
cries Pinte in the Roman when Chantecler says he is 
frightened by his dream, and Avoy ! cries Pertelote 
at the same place (1. 142) : the word is not used else- 
where in Chaucer. The Fox shouts Maugre vostre 
at his pursuers in \hzRotnan, and Maugree y our e heed! 
in Chaucer (1. 646). But it is not possible to say 
whether these phrases come to Chaucer direct from 
French, or whether they were transmitted through an 
English intermediary, for both are found earlier in 
Middle English. 2 

(iii) Is the ultimate source the Roman de Renard 
or some other French version ? That Chaucer takes 
his story from a version identical with the Roman in 
some details of phrasing appears from the examples 
just quoted, and from, the Cock's prayer after his 
dream, where the Roman has Seint Esperiz, Garis hut 
mon cors de prison = * God . . . Kepe my body out of 
foul prisoun' (1. 130 f.). But in the broader lines of 
treatment Chaucer is sometimes nearer to Heinrich 
Glichezare and Marie de France. For example, the 
Fox's first spring, which spoils the story by giving 
Chantecler full warning of Reynard's purpose, is 

1 Often printed, e.g. in Middle English Humorous Tales > cd. 
G. H. McKnight, Boston 1913. 

2 harrow, one of three exclamations in 1. 614, is paralleled by harou 
in the Roman, but the expression is too common in French and Middle 
English to have any value as evidence of relation. 

xxvi The Nuns Priest's Tale 

peculiar to the Roman, and it has been shown * that 
it is an interpolation from another branch of the cycle. 
The absence of this incident in Chaucer might seem 
at first sight to be evidence that he used a version 
more primitive in this respect than the Roman. But 
it is the kind of detail that Chaucer himself, or an 
intermediary, would discard, just as Chantecler's 
crowing first with one eye shut is discarded, though it 
is proved to be primitive by Callus et Vulpes and 
Nivard's Ysengrimus. Any shortening of the Roman 
version, in which the action is most fully developed, 
must tend to approach the simpler early forms by 
the dropping of less essential incidents. It cannot be 
proved by comparison with other versions that the 
Nun's Priest's Tale is not in the direct line of descent 
from the Roman de Renard ; and as the likeness of 
phrasing is easiest explained by assuming a direct line 
of descent, that assumption should be preferred. 2 

(iv) Our first deduction that Chaucer did not take 
his story directly from the Roman, and our third 
that it is in the direct line of descent from the Roman, 
raise the question of lost intermediate versions. It is 
impossible to make a useful guess at their number, 
which (in the absence of evidence) might be two or 
twenty. But it is unlikely that all the lost inter- 
mediaries were written. No scribe or editor, and 
certainly no poet of Chaucer's ability, would have 
sacrificed so many of the good things of the Roman if 
he had had them before him in writing. A stage of 
oral tradition, in which the text might suffer from 
faults of memory or from the limits of time imposed 
on the story-teller, will best account for the shortening 

1 By Voretzsch, Zeitschrift fur romanische Philologie, vol. xv (1891), 
pp. 136 ff. A valuable article. 2 Miss Petersen On the Sources, 

&c., assumes a lost source combining features from the Roman and from 
Heinrich Glichezare, but her conclusions are pushed too far. 

Introduction xxvii 

and simplification ofMpplot; for the change or dis- 
appearance of^ioy^r^^^pxpper names ; the^faithful 
preservation of trivial phrases uttered at critical 
moments ; and the losd of literary finish all of which 
may reasonably be assumed in Chaucer's immediate 
source, whether that source was oral or written.'/: ' 

Other divergences fit well enough with these cpn- 
clusions. In the Roman Pinte warns Chantecler that 
his dream means immediate danger, and he laughs at 
her fears ; in Chaucer he is afraid of his dream and 
she laughs at him, putting her faith in the herbs Avjiich 
he scorns. Here the essential thing for the story is 
the domestic difference of opinion : the sides taken do 
not matter so much. But in the Roman Chantecler is 
at first afraid and Pinte is derisive (' You are like the 
dog that howls before the stone hits him ') ; and 
derived versions, or even Chaucer himself, whose 
sympathies as between husband and wife are not in 
doubt, might well choose to develop the argument 
along these lines. 

Then, again, in the Roman there is an elaborate 
account of the farm of Constant de Noes, of the 
arrangements for keeping Reynard out of this fox's 
paradise, and his successful entry. In Chaucer a poor 
widow owns the yard. There is no need to suppose 
that Chaucer metamorphosed the rich farmer into the 
poor widow. In the shortening of the story when it 
was separated from the cycle, the name of Constant 
de Noes would naturally disappear, together with the 
details of Reynard's approach. But at the starting of 
the chase the farmer's wife must be prominent, as she 
is in the Roman, however much the story is cut down. 
Even the carvings of the scene find room for her. 
From this part of the tale Chaucer (or an inter- 
mediary) would assume that she was the owner of the 
yard and the Cock. 

xxviii The Nun's Priest's Tale 

This leads to the last point we need notice : In the 
Roman attention is focussed on Reynard from the 
beginning, and all his movements are minutely 
recorded. In Chaucer he does not appear at all till 
the tale is half told. This is what we should expect. 
The Roman is the Roman de Renard^ and each of its 
stories is told as an episode in his career. But when 
one of them is detached from its setting, Reynard 
loses in importance. The centre of interest shifts, and 
the Nun's Priest justly says ' My tale is of a Cok '. 

We have lingered over the plot ; yet on a strict 
reckoning it takes up barely a fifth of Chaucer's 
narrative. His own work appears most in the em- 
broidering by which he made an old story new. He 
begins with a description of the poor widow and her 
household (55-80), which is as sharp as any in the 
Prologue, and is unmistakably his own. Her humble 
roof supplies the perch for the more brilliant house- 
hold of a prince among cocks, and the description of 
Chantecler and his wives (81-115) brings us closer to 
the matter. With Chantecler's dream (116-41), which 
includes a miniature portrait of the Fox, all the 
characters are introduced, and the story begins in 
earnest. But almost immediately Madame Pertelote 
strays into considerations on the ideal husband (145- 
51) ; and then she launches the subject of dreams 
and their medical aspects (155-203). Chantecler 
refutes her by the stock examples : two dream stories 
taken ultimately from Cicero (218-338) with a minor 
digression on the theme 'Murder will out' (284-91) ; 
St. Kenelm (344-55) ; Scipio's Dream (356-60) ; 
Daniel, Joseph, Pharaoh (361-9) ; Croesus and An- 
dromache (370-82) till dawn, calling him to his duty, 
brings relief (383 f.). Not till 1. 406 does he fly down 
from his perch, and it takes some dozen lines more 

Introduction xxix 

(421-33) to bring out the date of the fatal morning, 
and its astrological significance. 1 

At the close of his argument he had felt something 
of the melancholy grandeur of doomed Hector ; but 
Pertelote's beauty (394-6) banishes his fears. He 
turns the ominous * Mulier est hominis confusio ' to a 
jest ; and the spring day (434-7) raises him to the 
height of joy which goes before tragedy. Hence some 
reflections on 'ever the latter end of joy is woe 1 
(439-43), followed by an assurance that the story is 
true (444-7), and a promise to get on with it (448), 
which is fulfilled when the Fox is introduced into the 
yard (449-57), like the Serpent into Eden (cp. 1. 492). 
But only eight lines are spared for the story proper* 
Famous traitors Judas Iscariot, Ganelon, Sinon are 
brought to mind (461-3) ; the evil day is cursed 
(464-7) ; a promising excursus on predestination is 
begun (468-84), only to be dismissed as irrelevant to 
the ' tale of a Cok ' ; and the folly of taking women's 
advice is exposed (490-500). Then for a while the 
tale goes on smoothly : there are brief asides on mer- 
maids (505 f.) and on natural antipathies (513-15), but 
the Fox in his long speech (518-55) sticks to the 
point unswervingly, speaking not a word in vain, and 
falling into reminiscence only to tell of a cock that was 
very ingenious, yet not comparable in discretion with 
Chantecler's father who crew with both eyes shut. 
Chantecler beats his wings to crow, but before he can 
rise on his toes six lines on flattery are interpolated 
(559-64), and his capture opens the floodgates of 
digression : there is an appeal to Destiny, another to 
Venus, a dig at Geoffrey de Vinsauf s chiding of * the 
Friday 1 (572-88); the classical scenes of women's 

1 May 3 is one of the ' Egyptian days ', or dies malt, on which it is 
dangerous to undertake anything. The day was the unlucky Friday, 
Venus's day, and the sun was in Taurus, the ' house ' of Venus. 

xxx The Nuns Priest's Tale 

wailing are recalled (589-607) ; and still, another 
promise is given to return to the story. And now, 
with fully half the action untold and a tenth of his 
time left, Chaucer fulfils his promise : from the moment 
the widow starts the chase till the moral ends the tale, 
there is no pause. 

No evidence suggests that Chaucer found these 
diversions in his immediate source : they appear 
to be his own contribution to the story. And they 
serve one general purpose. The great scene in the 
tale of the Cock and the Fox, as we know from book- 
illustrations and carvings, and, indeed, from Chaucer's 
own treatment, is the scurrying chase that turns a 
peaceful farmyard into pandemonium ; and he de- 
liberately holds back this scene, approaching it as 
slowly and indirectly as his audience will permit. 
For he is both entertaining them and teasing them 
with suspense and irrelevance: he keeps an eye on 
them all the time, gauging to a nicety how far he can 
go without spoiling their pleasure, cajoling them with 
a promise * or muffling a protest by protesting first. 2 
But when once the chase is started, his burst of pace 
is all the more effective by contrast. A score of verses 
(611-35) are crowded with noise and action, and 
nothing is allowed to drag afterwards : even the moral, 
which at an earlier stage might have given rise to long 
discussion, is dispatched in two business-like lines (670 f.). 

If now we compare Chaucer's additions with the 
handling of the same plot in the Roman de Renard, a 
notable difference appears. The Roman version rattles 
along, almost without reflections and digressions ; 
there is plenty of lively detail, but it springs naturally 
out of the action, and there is no clear-cut distinction 

1 But I wol passe as lightly as I kan, 173 ; And after wol I telle his 
iventdre, 420 ; Now wol I torne agayn to my sentence, 448 ; cp. 608. 

2 I wol nat ban to do of swich mat^ere, 

My tale is of a Cok, as ye may heere. 11. 485 f. 

Introduction xxxi 

between the story itself and the divagations from it 
This is- not a difference between two individual 
poets, or two nations : the same tendency for descrip- 
tion, discussion, and moralizing comment to grow till 
they clog the story, may be seen if a fourteenth-century 
English romance is compared with one of the early 
thirteenth century, or if the late French Renard le 
Contrefait is set beside the Roman de Renard. In 
fact, description and digression were the vices of 
narrative in Chaucer's day. He made description one 
of the chief merits of his poetry by freeing it of con- 
vention and using it with masterly restraint ; but 
though he knew the dangers well enough, he was too 
much a man of his time to escape altogether from 
the snares of digression. 

It may be said that in the Nun's Priest's Tale he is 
laughing at this literary vice, and in a sense that is 
true. But it is an unusual kind of laughter. For there 
is little doubt that some such interpolations, taken 
seriously, were to the taste of his audience, so that 
they must laugh at themselves. And there is a further 
complexity : Chaucer liked them. The long excursus 
on dreams is paralleled by the serious argument in 
Troilus v, 358-85 ; predestination is dragged into 
Troilus iv, 961 ff., with no artistic excuse; and the 
Franklin's Tale is marred for modern readers by the 
citation of Hasdrubars wife and other classical parallels 
(F. 1367-1456) after the manner of 11. 589 ff. So in 
these digressions Chaucer is indulging his inclination 
and laughing at himself too. And this is one of the 
attractions of his work. A man who is in part his 
own butt is not likely to be a savage and uncomfortable 
satirist ; and a man who can look at things from so 
many sides that he sees the ridiculous in himself will 
be a tolerant and easy companion ; though if he is very 
self-conscious, as Chaucer was, too keen a sense of the 

xxxii The Nuns Priest's Tale 

ridiculous may cumber him in the higher flights of 
poetry. Besides, there is a fascination in trying to 
follow the thoughts of such a Proteus, where the 
chances of being deluded are high. Do 11. 581 ff., 
for instance, mean simply that he had a good-natured 
contempt for Geoffrey de Vinsauf, or may we read 
between the lines that he had studied the Nova 
Poetria seriously as part of his training in the art of 
poetry, and that it still had a place in his uncritical 
affections? (To know for certain when he is wholly in 
earnest and when he writes wholly in fun is the 
hardest problem that Chaucer has left to his readers. \ 
In what has just been said, it is assumed that Chaucer 
is not laughing at his own views and practices because 
he has outgrown them, but because he is in the mood 
for laughing ; and on this assumption we cannot infer 
that the Nun's Priest's Tale is necessarily later than 
other works (like Troilus) whose weaknesses it seems 
to expose. Nor can any certain conclusion as to the 
date of composition be drawn from the indications 
that the tale was not specially written for its present 
place in the series. 1 There is no satisfactory evidence 
that fixes the date within the obvious limits established 
by Chaucer's death in 1400, and by a casual reference 
to the massacre of Flemings in June 1381 (11. 628 ff.). 2 
But at least we may be sure that it was written in 
a happy time not necessarily a time of posts and 
pensions, or even of good bodily health, but one in 
which he felt his powers at the full. The whimsical 

1 See p. xli below, and the notes to 11. 372, 604 f. The opposite view, 
that the main story and some of its digressions belong to the type of 
exempla, or sermon stories, and are therefore specially fitted to a priest, 
is not well founded, for a very large proportion of medieval stories are 

2 See the Notes, p. 57. It is almost the only sign of the stirring 
times in which he lived that Chaucer allows to appear in the Canterbury 

Introduction xxxiii 

subject called for all his subtlety. He had to keep 
a nice balance between the natural characters of the 
animals and their human attributes, for on the clash 
and blending of these much of the humour depends. 
Where the whole machinery of mock-heroic treatment 
would be too artificial, and the simple story of a farm- 
yard incident too plain, he had to combine the interests 
of both. If the mock-heroical element gave him an 
opportunity to display his curious learning, it was on 
condition that he also displayed its vanity. vAbove all, 
he must resist the temptation to fall into serious satire, 
which would break the fantasy. * He succeeded, where 
so many failed, by serene good^Jtemper as well as art, 
and it is this that makes the Nun's Priest's Tale the 
favourite of most readers of The Canterbury Tales. , 


It remains to see how Chaucer gave the story a new 
setting in The Canterbztry Tales, which he designed to 
be no mere collection, but an organized work: the 
tales are pulled together, so that their several merits 
may be enhanced, by a frame describing the Canter- 
bury pilgrims and the course of their story-telling, 
which comprises the Prologue; the preambles of the 
Wife of Bath, Pardoner, and Canon's Yeoman ; the 
links between tales ; and the ' Retracciouns ' * at 
the end. 

When he took this project in hand, about the year 
1386, Chaucer had some stories by him which he could 
adapt ; 2 but he intended to write many more, and his 

1 See the note to 1. 679 (ii). 

a The Second Nun's Tale of St. Cecilia is a clear instance ; it is 
a separate story which Chaucer refers to in the Prologue to the Legend 
of Good Women, and it is not adapted at all to the teller. There is 
a prayer to those that reden that I write ', and the ' I * is elsewhere 
described as * unworthy sone of Eve '. 

xxxiv The Nun's Priest's Tale 

first plan was a spacious one. It is outlined by the 
Host when the pilgrims are assembled at the Tabard 
Inn, Southwark, the night before they start for Can- 
terbury : 

Ech of yow, to shorte with oure weye, 

In this viage shal telle tales tweye, 

To Caunterbury-ward, I mene it so, 

And homward he shal tellen othere two, 

Of ^ventures that whilom han bifalie : 

And which of yow that bereth hym best of alle, 

That is to seyn, that telleth in this caas 

Tales of best sentence and moost solaas, 

Shal have a soper at oure aller cost, 

Heere in this place, sittynge by this post, 

Whan that we come agayn fro Caunterbury. 

As there were ' wel nine and twenty ' - 1 in the com- 
pany besides our Host of the Tabard, and Chaucer 
himself, who was to be a story-teller as well as the 
reporter for all, this plan would call for one hundred 
and twenty-four tales, if the Canon and his Yeoman, 
who first joined the party at Boughton-under-Blean, are 
left out of the count. But Chaucer found the task too 
heavy, and shortened his plan to one tale apiece on 
the outward journey ; for when Canterbury is near, the 
Host calls on the Parson, saying : 

Now lakketh us no tales mo than oon . . . 
For every man save thou hath told his tale. 

The Parson agrees to 

1 telle a myrie tale in prose 
To knytte up al this feeste and make an ende'; 

and as soon as it is told, the author takes leave in his 
' Retracciouns '. 

Even on this reduced scale the work was not finished. 
Only twenty complete tales are told, including the 
Canon's Yeoman's. Two more break off abruptly 
without explanation : the Cook barely begins his tale 

1 In fact thirty are mentioned in the Prologue. 

Introduction xxxv 

of Perkin Revelour, 1 and the Squire c leaves half-told 
the story of Cambuskan bold '. Two more, Chaucer's 
own Sir Tlwpas and the Monk's Tale, 2 are stopped 
by the Host and the Knight. And Chaucer had not 
so far decided on the tales that were to fill the gaps, 
and the manner of their treatment, as to supply the 
links which would have made the arrangement certain. 
There are several loose ends tales that are not linked 
to anything before them, like the Man of Law's, or 
tales that are not linked to anything following, like 
the Nun's Priest's. Whether Death, 'the privy thief, 
came upon him unawares, or whether the zest or 
inspiration went from him before he died, he seems to 
have left behind a bundle of manuscript, partly finished 
and partly in the rough, in which the tales were 
arranged in groups but not as a whole series ; 3 and 
editors ever since have laboured to catch his intentions. 
What would modern editors give for the opportunity 
Chaucer's executors had ! Lacking it, they have done 
their best to arrange the groups, and Furnivall's order 
has been most favoured. Assuming that the references 
to the route of the pilgrims (and to a less extent the 
indications of time) can be relied on, and that in those 
days of bad roads a leisurely pilgrimage from London 
to Canterbury would take four days, he obtains the 
following table. The capital letters show the breaks 
in the series, and for purposes of reference each group of 
linked tales is known by the capital that precedes it : 

1 The incomplete Cook's Tale follows the Reeve's on the first day. 
But on the last day the Host calls on him as if he had not yet told 
a tale. He is then too drunk to respond and the Manciple takes his 

2 But the Monk's Tale is of the kind that might begin or end 

8 This does not imply that at Chaucer's death there was but one 
copy of each tale or group. It is probable that some of the tales had 
been circulated during his lifetime. 

C 2 

xxxvi The Nuns Priest's Tale 

Day i. A. Tales of the Knight, Miller, Reeve, Cook . . . 

Halt for the night at Dartford. 
ii. B. Tales of the Man of Law, Shipman, Prioress, 

Chaucer (two), Monk, Nun's Priest. Halt for 

the night at Rochester. 
iii. C. Tales of the Doctor and Pardoner ? ; D. Wife 

of Bath, Friar, Sumner ; E. Clerk and Merchant. 

Halt for the night at O springe. 
iv. F. Tales of the Squire . . . and Franklin ; G. Second 

Nun, Canon's Yeoman ; H. Manciple ; and 

L Parson. Arrival at Canterbury. 


The Pilgrims" Way to Canterbury. 

In this arrangement several points are debatable, 
but at least it is certain that the Nun's Priest's Tale 
is told not far from Rochester (because when the 
Host asks the Monk to begin the tale which precedes 
it he says ' Lo ! Rouchestre stant heer faste by ! ') ; 
that Chaucer thinks of the story as being told on 
a spring day (he dates the Man of Law's Tale on the 
i8th of April) ; and that from the Shipman's Tale * to 
the Nun's Priest's Tale the series is unbroken, with all 
the links complete. 

Such a series enables us to study Chaucer's skill in 
the management of his materials. In assigning tales 
to their tellers he observes one general rule : although 

1 The linking of the Shipman's Tale with the Man of Law's depends 
on one MS. of inferior authority ; but it is a happy guess. 

Introduction xxxvii 

the pilgrims are nearly all of the middle class, 1 he 
more than once distinguishes the 'gentils' from the 
rest, 2 and he is careful to give the * gentils f the 
Knight, Squire, Franklin, Doctor, Man of Law, Monk, 
Prioress, Clerk, Parson tales that conform to courtesy 
and ' gentilesse '. As for the order of telling, the 
Knight, who is the chief man present, very appro- 
priately draws the lot for the first tale, and the Parson 
tells the last because all the company are agreed ' to 
enden in som vertuous sentence'. But in between 
there is no order of precedence. Sometimes the pil- 
grims take charge, as on the first day when the drunken 
Miller follows the Knight because nobody can stop 
him, and the Reeve, whom he provokes, is allowed to 
tell a tale of a miller in reply. At other times, the 
Host, who is the agreed arbiter, calls upon a pilgrim, 
reminding him of his compact to obey; and it so 
happens that in this particular series the Host fixes 
the order throughout. 

His principle is simple : he likes variety and con- 
trast, and though he can appreciate a sad tale, he 
wants a merry one to follow. 3 But let us watch him 
at work. The Shipman's Tale, which is merry and not 
genteel, wins his approval : 

'Wei seyd, by corpus dominus\* quod our Hoost, 
1 Now longe moote thou saille by the coost, 
Sire gentil maister, gentil maryneer I ' 

But he immediately singles out the Prioress byway of 

1 Knights were reckoned as leaders of the commons. The only poor 
labourer is the Plowman, and he could hardly be omitted in the days of 
Piers Ploivman. 

8 e. g. in the link following the Knight's Tale and in that before the 
Pardoner's Prologue. 

3 After the Doctor's story of Appius and Virginia he declares : 
* By corpus bones! but I have triacle, 
Or elles a draughte of moyste and corny ale, 
Or but I heere anon a myrie tale, 
Myn herte is lost for pitee of this mayde.' 

xxxviii The Nun s Priest's Tale 

contrast, and with studied diffidence and courtesy 
invites her to begin. The Prioress, as might be 
expected, chooses a religious subject the exquisite 
legend of the schoolboy martyr whose heart was set 
upon singing O Alma Redemptoris Mater. When she 
had finished, says Chaucer, 

every man 

As sobre was that wonder was to se, 
Til that oure Hooste japen tho began, 
And thanne at erst he looked upon me 
And seyde thus : ' What man artow ? ' quod he. 
'Thou lookest as thou woldest fynde an hare, 
For evere upon the ground I se thee stare. 1 
Approche neer and looke up murily. 
Now war yow, sires, and lat this man have place ; 
He in the waast is shape as wel as I ... 
He semeth elvyssh 2 by his contenaunce, 
For unto no wight dooth he daliaunce . . . 
Telle us a tale of inyrthe, and that anon. 

Then Chaucer begins ' a rym I lerned longe agoon * 
the Tale of Sir Thopas, which is the type of rimed 
romances in their last degeneracy, rich in jingling 
rimes, elaborate conventional descriptions, elf-queens 
and three-headed giants, but almost without action. 
As he begins the second fit, the parody becomes more 
obvious ; and the Host, who had expected ' som deyntee 
thyng ', can bear it no longer : 

* Namoore of this, for Goddes dignitee ! ' 
Quod oure Hooste, ' for thou makest me 
So wery of thy verray lewednesse 3 . . . 
Mine eres aken of thy drasty speche.' 

Chaucer asks why he alone should be stopped, since 

1 A critic (Mod. Lang. Notes, 1925, p. 54) has urged that this is not a 
'permanent' description of Chaucer, and that his eyes were cast down in 
sadness after the Prioress's tale. But ever cannot mean * for the last ten 
minutes * (the sad part of the Prioress's tale would take no longer to tell). 
Besides, something distinctive attracts the Host's attention to Chaucer, 
and an attitude accounted for by a momentary sadness which all the 
company share, would not be remarkable. 

a elvish here perhaps means * moon-struck '. 8 L e. rusticity. 



it is the best rime he knows, and gets a downright 
answer : 

'Thou doost noght elles but despendest tyme, 
Sire, at o word, thou shalt no lenger ryme. 
Lat se wher thou kanst tellen aught in geeste, 1 
Or telle in prose somwhat, at the leeste, 
In which ther be som murthe or som doctryne. 

Chaucer on Pilgrimage. From the Ellesmere MS. 

This last suggestion is taken up in Chaucer's tale of 
Melibeus, which reports the proverbial consolations 
Dame Prudence gave to her husband Melibeus, after 

1 Alliterative verse. 

xl The Nuns Priest's Tale 

she had been beaten and her daughter wounded to 
death by his enemies. It is a testimony to the medieval 
liking for didactic works that this story, so wearisome 
now, was heard to the end. The Host merely regrets 
that his own shrewish wife had not the chance of 
hearing it and acquiring a little of the saintly patience 
of Dame Prudence. Then he calls on the Monk with 
some rough banter, and the too ready response might 
have been a warning : * I shall do my best ', says the 

'to telle yow a tale or two or three, 
And if yow list to herkne hyderward 1 
I wol yow seyn the lyf of Seint Edward; 
Or elles first tragedies wol I telle, 
Of whiche I have an hundred in my celle.' 

Tragedy it is the fall of the prosperous and he 
settles down to do it thoroughly,beginning his examples 
as far back as Lucifer and Adam. It was a favourite 
theme in the Middle Ages, but a monotonous and 
gloomy theme for such an occasion ; and when the 
Monk reaches his seventeenth tragedy, the Knight, 
oppressed perhaps by the thought of the other eighty- 
three in his cell, calls * Hoo ! ' and explains (for he is 
a master of tact) that this cumulation of misfortune is 
painful to him. The Host avows more bluntly that 
he is bored : 

' Swich talkying is nat worth a boterflye, 
For therinne is ther no desport ne game.' 

He longs more than ever for a merry tale, and as the 
Monk refuses to tell a hunting story, he calls the Nun's 
Priest into the centre of the group of riders : ' Telle 
us swich thyng as may oure hertes glade '. This time 
he gets the merry tale of the Cock and the Fox. 

Modern criticism has gained so much by the close 

1 i.e. to me. 

Introduction xli 

study of the frame into which the Canterbury tales 
are fitted, that there is a tendency to push ingenuity 
in this direction beyond the limits of good sense, 
and to interpret the tales themselves as if they were 
speeches by the actors in a play. The stressing of 
some favourable passages has given rise to the con- 
ception of Chaucer as a dramatic genius, which seems 
to be radically unsound if ' dramatic ' is used in con- 
tradistinction to 'narrative 1 , or indeed in any strict 
sense. A general congruence there is between hi* 
characters and their words, 1 and he can both devise 
appropriate action and describe it ; but these qualities 
belong to good narrative as well as to drama. On the 
other hand, the detachment of the tales from their 
frame is generally well marked : once a tale begins, 
it is exceptional to find any certain reference to the 
teller, the company, or the pilgrimage, until it ends. 2 
And there are several discordant indications : the 
Knight speaks as if he were writing his tale ; 3 so does 
the Franklin ; 4 the Canon's Yeoman 6 apologizes to 
1 Canons religious ', though there is none among the 
pilgrims, explaining that 

'This tale was nat oonly toold for yow 
But eek for othere moo ; ' 

and in the Merchant's tale, of which the scene is laid 
in Italy, Justin, giving advice to his brother on marriage, 
refers to the Wife of Bath, Chaucer's own creation ! 6 

1 I pass over the Second Nun's Tale (see p. xxxiii, footnote) and the 
Shipman's Tale, which was written originally for a woman probably 
the Wife of Bath assuming that Chaucer would have removed the 
anomalies. But a dramatist would scarcely hope to get a good result 
by such adaptation. 

2 Where there are special preambles the Pardoner, Wife of Bath, 
Canon's Yeoman the frame and tale are fused together. 

3 ' But of that storie list me nat to write/ A. 1201. 
F. 1548 ff. 

6 Canon's Yeoman's Tale, G. 1000 f. See also the note to 11. 559 ff. 
e E. 1685 ff. I do not overlook the interpretation of these lines as an 

xlii The Nuns Priest's Tale 

But all of these are explained if Chaucer felt himself 
as the teller. 1 And is not that the impression of most 
readers ? Except at the beginning and end, do we 
feel in the tale of the Cock and the Fox that it is 
a priest who is speaking, and would our enjoyment be 
less or different if the tale had been given to the Squire 
or the Franklin ? Is the discussion of predestination 
(11. 468 ff.) better suited to a priest in the presence of 
his superior, the Prioress, than to the author of Troilus 
iv. 960 ff. ? Or are the words ' O Gaufred deere 
maister soverayn' (1. 581) as apt in the Priest's mouth as 
in Chaucer's ? If The Canterbury Tales is to be judged 
as a drama, it comes off poorly. The author is an actor 
himself, the only one with a doubled part ; he makes the 
Man of Law give an account of his earlier poems ; he 
is constantly intruding his own opinions, and peeping 
round the curtain to show himself to the audience or see 
how they like his work a serious fault in a dramatist. 
But this refusal to be impersonal, and to lose himself 
in the creatures of his imagination, has a large part in 
Chaucer's greatness as a narrative poet. He estab- 
lishes with his readers a relation so direct, easy, and 
personal that his inconsistencies are forgiven ; and no 
later poet can rival him in this, for he learned his art 
in a school which trained an author to address a group 
no larger than the reach of his voice, or a few friends 
in his chamber, where he could feel his hold on the 
listeners, and respond to every flicker on their faces. 

aside by the Merchant, but prefer the reading which has the best manu- 
script support, and the plain meaning of the words. 

1 He refers to the Wife of Bath in almost the same words in his 
Envoy to Bukton ' touching marriage '. 

GEOFFREY CHAUCER, son of John Chaucer, wine mer- 
chant, of London, was born about 1340. By 1357 he had 
begun his career as a page in the household of Lionel, 
Duke of Clarence. In 1359 he was with the army in France: 
he was taken prisoner, and his ransom was paid in March 1360. 
In 1367 he received a pension as a member (dilectus valettus) 
of the King's household. In 1369, on the death of Blanche, 
wife of John of Gaunt, he wrote his Deth of Blanche the Duchesse % 
the first evidence of an important friendship with John of Gaunt. 

He became a trusted member of the diplomatic service, 
visiting France several times (1369-78), Flanders (1377), Italy 
(1372-3 and 1378); and he was successful, if we may judge 
from the favours that came his way : another pension, a pitcher 
of wine daily, the Comptrollership of the Customs of Wools, 
Skins, and Hides (1374); the wardship of two minors (1375); 
the proceeds of a heavy fine (1376) ; the sinecure Comptroller- 
ship of Petty Customs at London (1382); and the right to 
discharge his other more onerous Comptrollership by deputy 
(1385). In 1386 he became member of Parliament for Kent. 
During this prosperous period he wrote his version of Boethius ; 
the Hous of Fame ; the Parlement of Foules (1382 ?); Troilus ; 
and the Legend of Good Women (1386?); and he probably 
planned the Canterbury Tales, his last great work. 

But with the failure of John of Gaunt's party in the autumn 
of 1386, he lost both his Comptrollerships : and he saw lean 
days till 1389, when Richard II made him Commissioner of 
Works. This post, too, he lost in 1391 : but in 1394 another 
pension was granted him. In his latter years he was often in 
debt. We need not picture him in misery, for debt is sometimes 
the result of living well. In 1399 he greeted the new king 
. Henry IV with his last work, the Compleynt to his Purse. It 
gained him another pension, which he did not long enjoy. He 
died in 1400, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. 

He had married Philippa, a lady of the court, perhaps in 1366. 
She died in 1387. For a Mitel son Lowis', then ten years old 
and at Oxford, he wrote the Treatise on the Astrolabe in 1391. 


THE text is based on the published facsimile of the Elles- 
mere MS., with reference to the Chaucer Society's prints 
of seven other complete MSS. of the Tales, and particu- 
larly to the Hengwrt and Corpus MSS. 

In this tale the Ellesmere text is generally careful, but it has 
several patent errors (e.g. 11. 128, 161, 165, 448, 496, 526, 596, 
656), and none of its peculiar readings is so good that it can be 
retained with certainty. Hengwrt, because of its near relation 
to Ellesmere, is a valuable check on arbitrary scribal changes 
in that MS. ; but in the Nun's Priest's Tale its contamination 
with the Corpus group (e. g. in the omission of 11. 5-24) lessens 
its value as a witness to the original of the Ellesmere text. The 
Corpus MS., though careless in general, has some readings of 
independent authority, and I have assumed that in one place at 
least, 1. 620, it enables us to get behind an error common to the 
other groups of MSS. (see the note). In this line the reading 
of the Harleian MS. 7334, which has been accepted by most 
modern editors, should be rejected. In the Nun's Priest's Tale 
the Harleian MS. has many readings in common with the 
Corpus type ; it contributes nothing of value to the text ; and 
even if y-gon in 1. 652 is right, it is better explained as an 
obvious emendation by the editor of the Harleian text than as 
an original reading preserved only in that branch of the MS. 

The acceptance of the Epilogue (see note to 1. 43), or any part 
of it, as Chaucer's work raises difficult problems, for it is not in 
the best MSS. of the eight printed by the Chaucer Society 
only Cambridge Dd. contains it. We need to know how it got 
into the inferior MSS., or how it got out of the majority and 
the best, and no really satisfactory explanation has been put 
forward. To assume that Chaucer left one manuscript which 
contained in the form of marginalia, interlineations, &c. all the 
variant readings it is convenient to attribute to him, is an 
elaborate way of evading the problems set by divergences in 
the extant MSS. 

Every departure from the Ellesmere MS. is recorded in the 
footnotes, where MS. indicates that the reading is found only 
in Ellesmere, and MS. &C. that at least one of the printed 
manuscripts agrees with Ellesmere. Some noteworthy variants 

The Text: xlv 

taken from the prints of the other MSS. are also included. In 
choosing these, regard has been had to the most authoritative 
classifications of the MSS.; but it seemed better not to specify 
the sources of the variants, as the information would necessarily 
be incomplete and misleading. The verse paragraphs of the 
Ellesmere MS. are preserved. Capitals, punctuation, and the 
use of v : u> j : i are modern. Where final -e must be pronounced 
as a separate syllable to make up the rhythm, I have printed *, 
except at the end of the line, where -e is normally syllabic, and 
in words like nevere (pronounced nev/re) where never would 
serve for the metre. Divergences from the modern English 
incidence of stress are marked by accents placed over the first 
vowel of the stressed syllable : an acute accent when the first 
or second syllable is stressed, e.g. trage'die ; a grave accent where 
the third, fourth, or fifth syllable is stressed, e.g. ascencibun^ 
altercacibun. This method has the advantage of showing that 
ascencibun must be read as a/scen/d/outi, with four syllables, 
and Pharab as Phajra/o with three. The first syllable of a 
nine-syllable line is also marked with the acute accent. 


The Ellesmere Chaucer reproduced in facsimile^ 2 vols, 

Manchester 1911. 
Chaucer Society's Publications, Series I, especially 

The Six-Text Chaucer (1868-). 

The separate prints of MS. Harley 7334 (1885) and MS. 

Cambridge Univ. Dd. 4. 24 (1901-2). 
Skeat, W. W. The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, 7 vols., 

Oxford 1894-7. 

McCormick, Sir. W. The Manuscripts of Chaucer's Canter- 
bury Tales^ Oxford 1933. 



Hammond, Miss E. P., Chaucer : A Bibliographical Manual, 

New York 1908. [Excellent.] 
Wells, J. E., A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 

1050-1400, New Haven &c. 1916; Supplements, 1919, 

Brusendorff, A., The Chaucer Tradition, London 1925. 

[Stimulating, but uneven.] 
Petersen, Miss K. O., On the Sources of the Nonne Prestes 

Tale, Boston 1898. [Good detailed study.] 

COMPLETE EDITIONS (in one volume). 

Skeat, W. W., The Student's Chaucer, Oxford 1895. 
Pollard, A. W. (and others), The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, 

Globe edition, London 1903. 
Robinson, F. N., The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, 

Boston and London 1933. 


Jusserand, J. J., English Wayfaring Life in the Middle Ages, 
(transl. L. Toulmin Smith), London 1899; revised 1921. 

Trevelyan, G. M., England in the Age of Wycliffe, London 
1899; new edn. 1909. 


Ker, W. P., English Literature^ Medieval, London 1912. 
Sisam, K., and Tolkien, J. R. R., Fourteenth Century Verse 
and Prose, Oxford 1921, c. 


Dryden, John, Preface to his Fables, 1700. [The Nun's 

Priest's Tale is the second Fable.] 
Kittredge, G. L., Chaucer and his Poetry, Cambridge (U.S.A.) 

and London 1915. 

Legouis, E., Chaucer (transl. L. Lailavoix), London 1913. 
Pollard, A. W., A Primer of Chaucer, London 1893, &c. 
Lowes, J. L., Geoffrey Chaucer, London 1934. 

1 The bibliographical manuals cited give a full account of the great 
body of Chaucer criticism contained in special editions, monographs, 
and journals. As I have found it impossible to give specific references 
to such sources, I take this opportunity of making a general acknow- 

v A ifij, 1 ; "V^^i, '^r ^ ,^fi ^V/ ^'^ 

lines 737-76. 

This riche Cresus, whilom kyng of Lyde^ 
Of whiche Cresus Cirus score hyrn dradde^ 
Yet was he caught amyddes al his pry de^ 
And to be brent men to the fyr hym ladde ; 740 
But swich a reyn doun fro the ^velkne shadde 
That slow the fyr and made hym to escape ; 
But to be war no grace yet he hadde^ 
Til Fortune on the galwes made hym gape. 

Whanne he escaped was, he kan nat stente 745 
For to bigynne a newe iverre agayn ; 
He wende wel y for that Fortune kym sente 
Swich hap that he escaped thurgh the rayn> 
That of hise foos he myghte nat be slayn ; 
And eek a szvevene iipon a nyght he mette 750 

Of which he was so proud and eek so fay n 
That in vengednce he al his herte sette* 

2 The Monkes Tale 

Upon a tree he was, as that hym thought* > 
Ther Juppiter hym wessh bo the bak and syde> 
And P he bus eek a fair towdille hym broughte^ 755 

To drye hym with ; and therfore wax his pryde^ 
And to his doghter that stood hym bisyde y 
Which that he knew in heigh science habounde> 
He bad hire telle hym what it signyfyde, 
And she his dreem bigan right thus expoimde : 760 

* The tree I quod she, ' the galwes is to meene, 

And Juppiter bitokneth snow and reyn. 

And Phebus with his toivaille so dene 

Tho been the sonne str ernes for to seyn. 

Thou shalt anhanged be ', fader, certfyn : 765 

Reyn shal thee wasshe^ and sonne shal thee drye! 

Thus warned hym ful plat and fill pleyn 

His doghter, which that called was Phanye. 

Anhanged was Crestis the proude kyng, 
His roial trone myghte Jiym nat avail le. 770 

Tragedie is noon oother maner thyng, 
Ne kan in syngyng crie ne biwaille, 
But that Fortune alwey wole assaille 
With unwar strook the regnes that been proiide ; 
For whan men trust eth hire, thanne wol she faille 775 
And cover e hire brighte face with a cloivde. 

Explicit 7^ragedia. 

Heere stynteth the Knyght the Monk 
of his tale. 

71ie Prologe of the 

* T T OO ! ' quod the Knyght, ' good sire, namoore 
il of this ! 

That ye han seyd is right ynough, ywis, 

And muchel moore ; for litel hevynesse 

Is right ynough to muche folk, I gesse. (B 3960) 

I seye for me, it is a greet disese, 5 

Where as men han been in greet welthe and ese, 

To heeren of hire sodeyn fal, alias ! 

And the contrarie is joye and greet solas, 

As whan a man hath been in povre estaat, 

And clymbeth up, and wexeth fortunat, 10 

And there abideth in prosperitee : 

Svvich thyng is gladsom, as it thynketh me, 

And of swich thyng were goodly for to telle.* 

* Ye/ quod oure Hoost, * by seinte Poules belle 1 
Ye seye right sooth. This Monk he clappeth lov/de: 
He spak, how " Fortune covered with a clowde " 16 
I noot nevere what and also of a " Tragddie " 
(Right now ye herde), and pardee, no rem&Iie 

It is for to biwaille ne compleyne 

That that is doon ; and als it is a peyne, ^ ( - ao 

As ye han seyd, to heere of hevynesse. c,^ < ^ 

I of om. MS. 5-24 om. some MSS. 14 seint MS. &c. 

mis B 

4 The Prologe 

-.<*.< Sire Monk, namoore of this, so God yow blesse ! 
Youre tale anoyeth al this compaignye : 
Swich talkyng is nat worth a boterflye, (B 3980) 

For therinne is ther nq desport ne game. 25 

Wherfore sire Monk," c!aun Piers by youre name, 
I pray yow hertely, telle us somwhat elles, 
For sikerly, nere clynkyng of youre belles 
That on youre bridel hange on every syde, 
By hevene-kyng that for us alle dyde ! 30 

I sholde er this han fallen doun for sleep, 
Althogh the slough had never been so deep ; 
Thanne hadde youre tale al be toold in veyn : 
For, certeinly, as that thise clerkes seynf- 
Where as a man may have noon audience, 35 

Noght helpeth it to tellen his sentence. 
And wel I woot the substance is in me, 
If any thyng shal wel reported be : 
Sire, sey somwhat of huntyng, I yow preye.' 

' Nay/ quod this Monk, ' I have no lust to pleye ; 40 
Now lat another telle, as I have. toold/ 

Thanne spak oure Hoost, with rude speche and bopld, 
And seyde unto the Nonnes Freest anon, T (B 3999) 
' Com neer, thou preest, com hyder thou," sir John 
Telle us swich thyng as may oure hertes glade ; 45 
Be blithe, though thou ryde upon a jade ; 
What thogh thyn hors be bothe foul and len^ ? 
If he wol serve thee, rekke nat a bene ! . 
Looke that thyn herteTBe mune everemo/ 

' Yis sire/ quod he, c yis, Hoost, so moot I go 1 50 
But I be myrie, ywis I wol be blamed/ <^ 
And right anon his tale he hath attamed, 
And thus he seyde unto us everichon, 
This sweete preest, this goodly man, sir John. 


25 MSS. which omit II. 5-24 have Youre tales doon us no &c. 

Heere bigynneth 


APOVRE wydwe, somdeel stape in age, 55 

Was whilbm^dwellyng in a narwe cotage 
Biside a greve^tondynge in a dale.. ^ 7C ' l ' c 
This wydwe,^)F whicn I telle yow rny tale, 
Syn thilke day that she was last a wyf, 
In-paci6nce ladd a fuj^gymple lyf, 60 

For litel was hir ojiei and hir rente : 
By housbondrie of swich as God hire sente 1 
She fopnd hirself and eek hir 'doghtren two. 
Thre Targe sowes hadde she and namo, (B 4020) 

Thre keen, and eek a sheep that highte Malle 65 

Ful sooty was hir hour and eek hir halle, 
In which she eet ful many a sklend^e; meel : 
Of poynaunt sauce hir neded never a deel ; \ 
No Heyntee morsel passed thurgh hir throte, 
Hir diete was accordant to hir cote.; IQ 

Repleccioun ne made hire nevere sik, 

B 2 

6 The Nonnes Preestes Tale 

Attempree diete was al hir phisik, 

And exercise, and herteS suffisaunce. 

The goute lette hire nothyng for to daunce,, 

N'apoplexie shente nat hir heed. 75 

No wyn ne drank she, neither whit ne reed, 

Hir bprd was served moost with whit and blak, 

Milk and broun breed, in which she foond no lak, 

Seynd bacoun, and somtyme an ey or tweye, 

For she was, as it were, a maner deye. ,80 

A yeerd she hadde, enclosed al aboute 
With st^kkes and a drye dj/ch withoute, 
In which she hadde a Cok heet Chauntecleer : 
In al the land of crowyng nasTiis peer ; ( B 44) 

His voys was murier than the murie org6n 85 

On messedayes that in the chirche gon ; 
Wei sikerer was his crowyng in his logge 
Than is a clokke, or any abbey or logge : 
By nature he knew ech ascencioun 
Of the equynoxi&l in thiike toun, 90 

For whan degrees fiftene were ascended, 
Thanne crew he, that it myghte nat been amended. 
*JrIis coomb was redder than the fyn coral, 
And batailled as it were a castel wal ; -* 
His byle yvas blak and as the jeet it shoon, 95 

Lyk"asure'were hise legges and hjg^toon, 
Hise nayles whitter than the lyl^e^lour, 
And lyk the burned gold was his co!6ur.\y 
This gentil cok hadde in his governaunce ^ 
Sevene hennes, for to doon al his plesaunce, 100 

Whiche were hise sustres and his paramours, 
And wonder lyk to hy m as of colours ; 
Of whiche the faireste hewed on hir throte 
Was cleggd faire damoysele Pertelote. (B 4060) 

75 N'apoplexie] Ne poplexie ne some MSS. 83 heet] highte ; that 
highte some MSS. 88 any] an MS. &c. 89 knew] crew MS. 

90 the omitted in some MSS. 9 1 weren MS. 

of the Cok and the Fox 7 

Curteys she was, discreet and d^bgnaire, 105 

And^c6nipaignable, and bar hyrself so faire 

Syn thilke day that she was seven-nyght oold, 

That trewely she hath the herte in hoold 

Of Chauntecleer, loken in every Hthj L/. 

He loved hire so that wel was hym therwith. no 

And swich a joye was it to here hem synge, 

Whan that the brighte sonne gan to sprynge, 

In sweete ac_cgrd, ' My lief is faren in londe ' : 

For thilke tyme, as I have understonde, 

Beestes and briddes koude speke and synge. 115 

And so bifel that in a dawenynge, .A fr 
As Chauntecleer among hise wyves alle 
Sat on his perche, that was in the halle, 
And next hym sat this faire Pertelote, 
This Chauntecleer gan gronen in his throte, 120 

As man that in his dreem is d reached soore. 

And whan that Pertelote thusjierjle^hym roore, 
She was agast, and seyde, ' Herte oeere, 
What eyleth yow, to grone in this manure ? (B 4080) 
Ye been a verray slepere, fy, for shame ! ' 125 

'. And he ansvv6rde and seyde thus, ' Madame, 
I pray yow that ye take it nat agrief : 
By God, me mette I was in swich mes^hfef 
Right now, that yet myn ^ejte is soore afright. 
Now God,' quod he, ' r^y'^^Q^ysS^S^^^. J 3 
And kepe my body out of foul pris6un ! 
Me mette how that I romed up and douii - 
Withinne oure yeerd, wheer as I sdugfT 'a beest 
Was lyk anjb&und, and wolde ban maad areest 
Upon my body and han had me deed. 135 

His colour was bitwixe yelow and reed, 
And tipped was his tayl and bothe hise eeris 

iia gan] bigan MS. &c. 116 a] the MS. 123 O herte MS. 
1 28 mette] thoughte MS. 130 recche] rede some MSS. 135 han] 
wolde han some MSS. 

8 The Nonnes Preestes Tale 

With blak. unlyk the remenant of hise heeris ; 
His sndwfe smal, with glowynge eyentweye 
Yet of his look for feere almoost I d^ye ! i^o 

This caused me my gronyng, doutelees.' 

AvoyJ ' quod she, * Fy on yow, herteleesl 
Alias/ quod she, * for, by that God above ! 
Now han ye lost myn herte and al my love. (B 4100) 
I kan nat love a coward, by my feith ! 145 

For certes, whatso any womman seith, 
We alle desiren, if it myghte bee, 
To h^rfhousbondes hardy, wise and free, 
And secree, and no nygard, ne no fool, 
Ne hym that is agast of every tool, V- * 150 

Ne noon avauntour : by that God above ! 
How dorste ve seyn, for shame, unto youre love 
That any thy n|ftpyghte make yow aferd ? 
Have ye no^mannes herte, and han a berd ? 

Alias ! and konne ye been agast of swevenys ? ( 155 
Nothyng, God woot ! but vanitee irt^awfevene is. 
Swevenes engendren of repfecclouns, < 
And ofte of fum^rfd of complecciouns,^, A , - t 
Whan humours been to habimdantinjpvight. 

Certes this dreem which ye han met tonyght 160 
Comth of the grete superfluytce 
Of youre rede colera, pardee,/ ^ 
Which causeth folk to dreden in hir dremes 
Of arwes, and of fyr with rede lemes ; (B 4120) 

Of rede beestes, that they wol hem byte ; 165 

Of conteks, and of whelpes grete and lyte ; 
Right as the humour of mal^ncolle 
Causeth ful many a man in sleep to crie 
For feere of blake beres, or boles blake, 

Or blake develes^ woljiem take.V 170 

U-; -Tr" -\ i-..( : "". . ;.' : " r;;. .-! 

161 comth] cometh MS. &c. : the grete] greet WS. 163 dreden]- 
dremen some MSS. 165 rede] grete MS. 169 of beres and of 

boles blake some MSS. 

of the Cok and the Fox 9 

Of othcre humours koude I telle also 
That werken many a man in sleep ful wo, 
But I wol passe as lightly as I kan. ; 

Lp Cat'oun, which that was so wys a man,X 
Seyde he nat thus, " ne do no fors of dremes "? 175 

Now, sire/ quod she/' whan we flee fro the bemes, 
For goddes love, as taak som laxat'yir 7 '' 
Up peril of my soule and of my Tyf, 
I consejlle yow the beste (I wol nat lye) < 
That bothe of colere and of malencotye 180 

Ye purge yow ; and for ye shal nat tarie, 
Though in this toun is noon apothecarie, 
I shal myself to herbes techen yow (B 4139) 

That shul been for youre heele and for youre prow : L 
And in oure yeerd tho herbes shal I fynde 185 

The whiche han of hire propretee by kynde 
To purge yow, bynethe and eek abo^e. 
Foryet nat this, for Goddes owene love I 
Ye been ful coleryk of complecci6un : 
Ware the sttarie in his ascenci6un 190 

Ne fynde yow nat repleet of humours hoote. 
And if it do, I dar wel leye a grote 
That ye shul have a fevere terciane, ] 
Or an agu that may be youre bane. 
A day or two ye shul have digestyves \\ 195 

Of wormes, er ye take youre laxatyves 
Of lawriol, centaure, and fumetere, 
Or elles of ellebor that groweth there, 
Of katapuce, or of gaitrys beryis, ! ;/ - 

Of herbe-yve growyng in oure yeerd ther ipery is. aoo 
Pekke hem up right as they growe, and etc hem yn l t 
Be myrie, housbonde, for youre fader kyn! 
Dredeth no dreem, I Kan sey yow namoore. 1 (B 4159) 

* Madame/ quod he, * graunt mercy of youre loore. 

176 we] ye MS. 

i q The Nonnes Preestes Tale 

But nathelees, as touchyng dgim Cat6un 205 

That hath of wysdom swich a greet renoun, 
Though that he tJSi^rio dremes for to drede, 
By God ! men may in olde bookes rede , 
Of many a man moore of auctorit6 v v ! * 
Than evere Caton was, so moot I thee ! 210 

That ,aLthe revers seyn of his sentence, 
And han wel founden by experience 
That dremes been significaci6uns / 
As wel of joye as of tribulaci6uns 1 
That folk enduren in this lif present. 215 

Ther nedeth make of this noon argument : 
The verray preeve sheweth it in dede. 
^Oon of the gretteste auj&ur that men rede 
~eith thus : that whilom two felaWes* wente 

>n "pilgrimage in a ful good entente/ 220 

And happed so they coqrnen in a toun, 
Wher as ther was swich congregacioun 
Of peple, and eek so streit of herbergage, 
That they ne founde as muche as o cotage (B 4180) 
In which they bothe myghte y-logged bee ; 225 

Wherfore they mpsten, of necessitee, 
As for that nyght departen compaignye, 
And ech of hem gooth to his hostelrye, 
And took his loggyng as it woldejalle : 
That oon of hem was logged in a stalle, 230 

Fer in a yeerd, with oxen of the plough ; 
That oother man was logged wel ynough, 
As was his dventure or his fortune, ' 
That us governeth alle as in commune. 

And so bifel that, longe er it were day, 235 

This man meuem" his bed, ther as he lay, 
How that his^felawe gan upon hym calle, 
And seyde, " Alias, forln an oxes stalle 

211 his] this MS. 212 And] That MS. 225 y-logged] 

logged MS. 

of the Cok and the Fox 1 1 

This nyght I shal be mordred ther I lye ! 

Now help me, deere brother, or I dye 1 240 

In alle haste com to me ! " he sayde. 

This man out of his sleep for feere abrayde, 
But whan that he was wakened of his sleep, 
He turned hym and took of this no keep : (B 4200) 
Hym thoughte his dreem nas but a vaniteq. 245 

Thustwiesf in hisj^epyng dremed hee, 
And'^^e.thridde tyme yet his felawe 
Cam, as hym thoughte, and seide, " I am now sjawe,: 
Bihoold my bloody woundes, depe and wyde 1 
Arys up erly in the morwe-tyde, 
Arid at the west gate of the toun," quod he, 
" A carte ful of donge ther shaltow se, *-..- -* 
In which my body vOjiid ful prively : 
Do thilke carte. arrlsren boldely. 
My gold caused my mordre, sooth to sayn" 255 
And tolde hym every point how he was slayn, 
With a ful pitous face, pale of hewe. 
And truste wel, his dreem he foond ful trewe ; 
For on the morw.e, as soone as it was day, 
To his felawes iriTie took the way, 260 

And whan thatTie cam to this oxes stalle, 
After his felawe he bigan to calle. 

The hostiler answ^rede hym anon, 
And seyde, " Sire, youre felawe is agon ; (B 4220) 

As soone as day he wente out of the toun." 265 

This man gan fallen in suspeci6un, 
Remembrynge on hise drepes that he mette, , 
And forth he gooth no lenger wolde he lette-S 
Unto^the westgate of the toun, and fond 
A dong-carte, as it were to donge lojj^,/, 270 

That was arrayed in that same wise 
As ye han herd the dede man devise ; 

244 this] it MS. 263 answerde MS. &c. 266 falle in gret s. 
seme MSS. 270 wente as it were someMSS; as he wente others. 

1 2 The Nonnes Preestes Tale 

And with an hardy herte he gan to crye ; 

Vengeance and justice of this felpnye : r 

" My felawe mordred is this same nyght, 275 

And in this carte heere he liih gapyng upright ! 

I crye out on the mimstres^ 5 ouod he, 

" That sholden kepe and reuteff this citee ! 

Harrow ! alias ! heere lith my felawe slayn ! " 

What sholde I moo re unto this tale sayn ? v $.,*, \ 280. 

The peple out-sterte and caste the cart to grdunde, 

And in the myddel of the Bong they founde 

The dede man, that mordred was jil newe. V 

O blisful God, that art so just and trewe, (B 4240) 
Lo, how that thou biwreyest mordre alway ! 285 

Mordre wol out, that se we day by day. 
Mordre is so ^vlatsom andJabhomynable 
To God, that is so just and resonable, 
That he ne wol nat suffre it heled be, 
Though it abyde a yeer, or two, or thre : 290 

Mordre wol "out, this my conclusi6un. 
And right anon minfstres of that toun (^ 
Han hent the cartere and so soore hym pyned, 
And eek the hostiler so soore engyned, 
That they biknewe hire wikkecfn^sse^ anon, 295 

And were anhanged~by the nekke-bon. } 

Heere may men seen that dremes been to drede ! 
And certes, in the same book I rede, 
Right in the nexte ch^pitre after this 
(I gabbe nat. so have I iove or blis !) : 300 

\ iT ^u . tf*&'*'L A 

^1 1 wo men that wolde nan ^passed over see, 

For certeyn cause, into a fer'contrde, r 

If that the wynd ne hadde been contrarie, 

That made hem in a citee for to tarie' (B 4260) 

That stood ful myrie upon an haven-syde : 305 

But on a day, agayn the even-tyde, 

276 heere] om. some MSS. 

of the Cok and the Fox 13 

wynd gan chaunge and blew right as hem Jeste. 
Jojif and glad they wenteunto hir reste, " 

And casterrliem ml erljM^r to saille. 

But (herkneth !) tolhat o man fil a greet mervaille. 
That oon of hem, in slepyng as he lay, """ 311 

Hym mette a wonder dreem, agayn the day: 
Hym thoughte a man stood by his beddes syde 
And hym comanded that he sholde abyde, 
And seyde hym thus, u If thou tomorwe wende, 315 
Thow shalt be dreynt my tale is at an ende." 

He jjvook and tolde his felawe what he mette, 
And preyede hym his viage to lettfe,^- ^"f 
As for that day he preyede hym to byde. 
" His felawe, that lay by his beddes syde, 320 

Gap for to laughe and scorned hym ful faste. 
" No dreem," qw>$ v hf, " may so myn herte agaste 
That Ij^ol lett?*for flo do my thynges. 
I sette nat a straw by thy dremynges, (B 4280) 

For swevenes been but vanytees and japes : 325 

Men dreme alday of owles or of apes, 
And of many a maze therwithal ; J^v^^ 
Men dreme of thyng that nevere was, ne shah 
But sith I see that thou wolt heere abyde, , 
And thus forslewthen wilfully thy tyde, ' ' #30 
God woot, it reweth me, .and have good day/' 
And thus he took his leve and wente his way. 
But er that he hadde half his cours y-seyled, 
Noot I nat why, ne what myschaunce it eyled, 
But casuelly the shippes botrne rente, 335 

And ship and man under the water wente, 
In sighte of othere shippes it bisyde ** 
That with hem seyled at the same tyde. 
And therfore, faire Pertelote so deere," 

308 wen ten unto reste some MSS. 318 preyde MS. 8cc: for to 
lette some MSS. 319 preyde MS. &c. 338 hem] hym some MSS. 

14 The Nonnes Frees tes Tale 

By swiche ensamples olde maispw leere 340 

That no man sKolde been to recchelees j 

Of dremes, for I seye thee, doutelees, 

That many a dreem ful soore is for to drede, 

^ N /Lo, in the lyf of Seint Kenelm I rede, (^4300) 

That was Kenulphus sone, the noble kyng 345 

Of Mercenrike, how Kenelm mette a thyng. 
A lite er he was mordred, on a day, 
His mordre in ,his awsioun he say. < 
His notice hym'dxpowaed every deel 
His swetfene, and bad hym for to Irepe'fcyift weel 350 
For traisoun ; but Tie nas but seven yeer oold, 
And therfore litel tale hath he toold I- << 
Of any dreem/so hqol/^rasms herte. ,.. 
By God ! I haddeJevere than my sherte 
That ye hadde faclms legende, as have I.. 355 

Dame Pertelotefl sey you trewely, 
Macrobeus, that writ the Avisi6un 
In Affrike of the worthy Cipi6un, 
Afifermeth dremes, and seith that they been 
Warnynge of thynges that men after seen. , /36c 

And forthermoore, I pray yow, looketh wel 
In the Olde Testament of Dajnj&l, 
If he heeld dremes any vanitee. 

Reed eek of Joseph, and ther shul ye see (B 4320) 
Wher dremes be somtyme (I sey nat alle) 365 

Warnynge of thynges that shul after falle. 

Looke of Egipte the kyng, da\jji Pharao, 
His bakere and his butiller also, f 
Wher they ne felte noon effect in dremes ! 
Whoso wol seken actes of sondry remes_ 370 

May rede of dremes many a wonder thyng : 

Lo Cresus, which that was of Lyde kyng, 
Mette he nat that he sat upon a tree, 

340 olde yet MS. 346 Mertenrike MS. &c. 353 was] is MS. 

of the Cok and the Fox 

Which signified he sholde anhanged bee ? 

Lo hg re Androtpacha, Ect6res wyf, 375 

That day that Ector sholde lese his lyf 
She dremed on the same nyght bjforn 
How that the lyf of Ector sholde be lorn 
If thilke day be wente into bataille. ^ 
She warned h^m, but it myghte nat availle :'<t 380 
He wente for to fighte natheles,4u>^ *M^ 
But he was slayn anoirijF Achilles. 
But thilke tale .is al to longe to telle, 
And eek it is ft$clay, I may nat dwelle. (B 4340) 

Shortly I seyefas for conclusioun, 385 

yhat I shal haft of this avisi6un 
Adversitee ; and Lseye forthermoor 
Thafl Ae teHe3if Taxatyves no stoor, 
For they been venymes, I woot it weel; 
I hem diffye, I love hem never a deel. ^ ^ 

Now lat us speke of myrthe and stynte al this. 
Madame Pertelote, so have I blis L^^ ^J> 
Of p thyng God hath sent me larg^ grace, 
For whan I se the beautee of youre face, (B 4350) 

Ye been so scarlet-reed aboute youre eyen, 395 

It maketh al my drpior to dyen. 
For, al so siker as In principle^ 
Mulier est hominis confusio : 

Madame, the sentence of this Latyn is, (B 4355) 
<c Womman is mannes joye and al his blis.". . . 400 
I am so ful of joye and of solas (B 4360) 

That I diffye bothe swevene and dreem,' 405 

And with that word he jiy doun fro the beem, 
(For it was day) and eke hise hennes alle, 
And with a chuk..he gan hem for to calle, C/ 
For he hadde founde a corn lay in the yerd. 
Real he was. he was namoore aferd : . . . 410 

S*N*T>T Viv^iU 

375 A<yomdcfta MSHbc. 383 tale om. MS. : for to telle MS. 

389 venymous some MSS. 406 fly] fleigh; fley other MSS. 

1 6 The Notincs Preestes Tale 

He looketh as it were a grym leoun, 

And on hise toos he rometh up and doun, 

Hym deigned nat to sctte his foot to grounde. 415 

He chukketh whan he hath a corn y-founde, 

And to hym renncn thanne hise wyves alle. 

Thus,Veki as a prince is in his halle, 

Leve I this Chauntecleer in his pasture, 

And after wol I telle his aventure. 420 

Whan that the monthe in which the world bigan, 
That highte March, whan God first makcd man, 
Was complect, and passed were also 
(Syn March bigan) thritty dayes and two, (B 4380) 
Bifel that Chauntecleer in al his pryde, 425 

Hise sevene wyvcs walkynge hym bisyde, 
Caste up hise eyen to the brightc sonne 
That in the signe of Taurus hadde y-ronne 
Twenty degrees and oon and sornwhat moore, 
And knew by Icyjicft^ and by noon oother loore, v Hso 
That it was pryme, and crew with blisful stevenc. 
1 The sonne, he seydc, i is clombcn up on hcvene 
Foiirty decrees and oon and moore, y wis. 
Madame Pertelote, my worldcs blis, ** 

Herkneth thise blisful bricldes how they sjnjgc> 435 
And sethc fresshe flou^es how they sprynge ! 
Ful isln^h herte of revPand sohls/^^Y^ 
But sodeynly hym fil aTsonveful casf . 

" t , -, r &*(/ 

for evere the latter ende of joy is wp : h c. 

God woof |ihat ^P r l^b^jy e ' ls soone ago ! 440 

And ifa r^hontotioenune^cndite, 

TT ^fr*^^ x Vi *> '"Jr^lVi , 

He in a crony clc samly myghte it write 

As for a sovereyn notabilitce. 

Now every wys man, iSt him herkne me: (B 4400) 

This storie is al so trewc, I undertake, 445 

418 real] roial AA9. &e. : his] an MS. &c. 426 hym bisyde] by his 
cyde MS. 442 croniquc some JMSS. 

of the Cok and the Fox 1 7 

As is the book of Launcclot de Lake 
That wommeii holde in ful greet reverence. 
Now wol I torne^agayn to my sentence. 

A cQlfox, ful of sly iniqmtee, .VW^Ucx- 
That in the grove hadde wqned yc#cs three, 450 

By heigh ymaginacioun forncast, 
The same nyght thurghout the hegges brast 
Into the yerd ther Chauntecleer the faire 

A-ft \ ' 

Was wont, and eek hisfixwyvcs, toTepaine; 

And in a bed of woffes stille he lay 455 

Til it was passed undren of the day, 

Waitynge his tyme on Chauntecleer to falle, 

As gladly doon this.e homycides allc 

*> . J ... JUX' J vvvuIJ^ 

That in await hggen to mqrcjrcmcn. 

O false mcydrour, lurkyng'e in thy den! 460 

O newe Scarlet ! newe Genyloun ! 

False dissymulour, O Greek Sytumri ;l "" 

That broghtest Troye al outrely to sorwe! 

O Chauntecleer, acurscd be that morwe (B 4420) 

That thou into that yerd flaugh fro the bemes ! 465 

Thou were ful wel y- warned by thy dremcs 

That thilke day was perilous to thee. 

But what that God forwoot moot nqdcs bee, 

After the opinioun of ccrtcin clerkhs '^''^ 

Witnesse on hym that any i^rfjT'clerk is 470 

That in scole is greet altcrcaciotul^ 

In this matecrc, and greet dispiitisoun, 

And hath been of an hundred thousand men. 

But I ne kan nat bultg it to the bren, 

As kan the hooly cloctour A gusty n, 475 

Or Boece or the Bisshop Bradwardyn : 

Wheither that Goddes worthy forwityng 

Streyneth me ncdely for to doon a thyn^, 

448 torne] come MS. 465 that (2nd)] the some MSS. 

478 nedely for] ncdcfulJy MS. 

1 8 The Nonnes Preestes Tale 

(Nedel^lcpe I symple neccssitec) ; 

Or ellcs if free choys be graunted me 480 

To do that same thyng or do it noght, 

Though God forwoot it er that it was wroght ; 

Or if his wityng streyneth never a deel 

But by necessitee condicioncel, (B 4440) 

I wol nat harT to do of svvich mateerc : 485 

My tale is of a cok, as ye may heere, , , v 3 

That took his conseil of his wyf with sorwe 

To walken in the yerd upon that morwe 

That he hadde met the dreem that I yow tolde. 

1 Wommennes conseils been fill ofte colde ; ' 490 

Wommannes conseil broghtc us^rst to wo;- ' 

And made Adam fro^arad>Vto|^o, 

Ther as he was ful myrie and wel at ese. 

But for I noot to whom it myght displese 

If I conseil of wommen wolde blame, 495 

Passe over, for I seyde it in my game. 

Rede auctours where they trcte of swich mat^cre, 

And what they seyn of wommen ye may heere. 

Thise been the cokkes wordes and nat mync : 

I kan noon harm of no womman divyne. 500 

Faire in the soond to bathe. hir^ myrily 
Lith Pertelote, and alle hire stipes by, 
Agayn the ^pnne ; and Chauntecleer so free 
So6ng muriei' than the mcrmayde in the see ^B 4460) 
(For Phisiologus seith sikerly 505 

How that they syngen wel and myrily). 

And so bifel that as he caste his eye 
Among the wortes on a boterflye, 
He was war of this fox that lay ful lowe. 
Nothyng ne liste hym thanne for to crowe, 510 

But cride anon, ' cok ! cok ! ' and up he sterte, 

489 the] that MS. : yow] of MS. 492 fro] out of MS. 496 seyde] 
seye MS. 500 of] on some MSS. 

of the Cok and the Fox 19 

As man that was affrayed in his hcrte ; 

For naturcelly ajbeest desireth flee 

Fro his contrane, IP he may it see, 

Though he never erst hadde seyn it with his eye. 515 

This Chauntecleer, whan he gan hym espye, 
He wolde han fled, but that the fox anon 
Seyde, c Gentil sire, alias, wher wol ye gon ? 
Be ye affrayed of me that am youre freend ? 
Now certes I were worse than a feend 520 

If I to yow wolde harm or vileynye. 
I am nat come youre conseil for t'espye, 
But trewely the cause of my comynge 
Was oonly for to herkne how that ye synge ; (B 4480) 
For trewely ye have as myrie a stevene 525 

As any aungel hath that is in hevene. 
Therwith ye han in musyk moore feelynge 
Than hadde Bocce, or any that kan synge. 
My lord youre fader (God his soule blesse !) 
And eek youre mooder, of hire gentillesse 530 

Han in myn hous y-been, to my greet ese ; 
And certes, sire, ful fayn wolde I yow plese. 

But for men speke of syngyng, I wol seye, 
So moote I brouke wel myne eyen tweye ! 
Save yow, I herde nevere man so synge 535 

As dide youre fader in the morwenynge. 
Certes it was of hcrte al that he song ! 
And for to make his voys the moore strong 
He wolde so peyne hym that with bothe hise eycn 
He moste wynke, so loude he wolde cryen, 540 

And stonden on his tiptoon therwithal, 
And strecche forth his nekke, long and smal 
And eek he was of swich discrecioun 
That ther nas no man in no regioun (B 4500) 

hym in song or wisedom myghte passe. 545 

526 hath] om. MS. 533 wol] wol yow MS. 535 herde I MS. 
535 so] yet MS. 

20 The Nonnes Preestes 'Tale 

I have wel rad in daun Burnel the Asse, 

Among hise vers, how that ther was a cok, 

For a preestes sone yaf hym a knok 

Upon his leg, whil he was yong and nyce, 

He made hym for to lese his benefice. 550 

But certeyn ther nys no comparisoun 

Bitwixe the wisedom and discrecioun 

(3f youre fader, and of his subtiltee.; 

Now syngeth, sire, for seinte charitee ! 

Lat se konne ye youre fader countrefete.' 555 

This Chauntecleer hise wynges jan_to bete, 
As mati that koude his traysoun nat espie, 
So was he ravysshed with his flaterie. 

(Alias, ye lordes ! many a fals flatour 
Is in youre court, and many a^Iftsengeour, ^60 

That plescn yow wel moore, by my feith, 
Than he that soothfastnesse unto yow seith., 
Redeth Ecclcsia'ste of Flaterye ; <t cc U^^/jt : 
Beth wa?, ye lordes, of hir trecherye !) (B 4520) 

This Chauntecleer stood hye upon his toos, 565 

Strecchynge his nekke, and heeld hise eyen cloos, 
And gan to crowe Ioud6 for the nones ; - 
And daun Russell the fox stirte up at^one 
And by the gargat hente Chauntecleer, ^v 
And on his bak toward the wode hym beer, 570 

ror yet ne was ther no man that hym sewed. 

O Destinee, that mayst nat been eschewed ! 
Alias, that Chauntecleer fleigh fro the bemes ! 
Alias, his wyf ne roghte nat of dremes ! I 
And on a Friday fil al this meschaunce. * 575 

O Venus, that art goddesse of plesajjncej vV^^ 
Syn that thy servant was this Chauntecleer, 
And in thy servyce dide al his poweer, 
Moore for delit than world to multiplye, 
Why wgldesto^ suffre hym on thy day to dye ? 580 
t Vk'f-f 'Lf-fcv-' 

^^ V 548 for that MS. . 560 courtes MS. 

of the Cok and the Fox 2 1 

O Gaufred, deere maister soverayn, 
That whan thy worthy kyng Richard was slayn 
With hot, compleynedest his deeth so soore, 
Why ne hadde I now thy sentence and thy Jjjorc . 
The Friday for to chide, as diden ye ? 585 

(For on a Friday, soothly, slayn was he). (B 4542) 

Thanne wolde I shewe yow how that I koude pleyne 
For Chauntecleres drede and for his peyne. 

Certes, swich cry ne Iamentaci6un 

Was nevere of ladyes maad whan Ylioun ' 590 

Was wonne, and Pirrus with his sircite. swerd 
AiVhan he hadde hent kyng Priam by the herd. 
And slayn hym*(as"seith us Eneydos), 
As maden alle the hennes in the clos 
WharTffiey had seyn of Chauntecleer the sighte. 595 
liut-sovereynly dame Pertelote shrighle, %1^f~*" 
Ful louder than dide Hasdrubales wyf 
Whan that hir housbonde hadde lost his lyf, 
And that the Romayns hadde brend Cartage 
She was so ful of torment and of rage 600 

That wilfully into the fyr she jterte 
And brende hirselven with a stedefast herte. 

O woful hennes, right so criden ye, 
As, whan that Nero brende thefcitee (B 4560) 

Of Rome, cryden senat6ures wyves 605 

For that hir husbondes losten alle hir lyves : 
Withouten gilt this Nero hath hem slayn. 
iMow wol I turne to my tale agayn. 
A^This sely wydwe and eek hir doghtres two 
Herden thise hennes crie and maken wo, 610 

And out at dores stirten they anon, 
And syen the fox toward the grove gon, 
And bar upon his bak the cok away, 
And cryden, f Out 1 harrow ! and weylaway ! 

596 sovereynly] sodeynly MS. 605 senatours MS. ; the senatours 
some MSS. 608 turne I wole MS. 609 This] The some MSS. 

C 2 

22 The Nonnes Preestes Tale 

Ha ! ha ! the fox ! ' and after hym they ran, 615 

And eek with staves many another man : 

Ran Colle oure dogge, and Talbot, and Gerland, 

And Malkyn, with a dystaf in hir hand ; 

Ran cow and calf, and~eek the verray 

Sore afsxd for berkyng of the dogges 620 

And shoutyng of the men and wommen eek, 

They ronne so hem thoughte hir herte breek; 

They yelledenjasjeendes doon in helle ; &&^^ 

The dokes cryden, as men wolde hem quelle ; (B 4580) 

The gees for feere flowen over the trees ; c --^ $ 25 

Out of the hyve cam the swarm of bees, 

So hydous was the noyse, a benedicitee 1 

Certes, he Jakke Straw and his meynee 

Ne made nevere shoutes half so shille 

Whan that they wolden any Flemyng kille, 630 

^s thilke day was maad upon the fox. 

Of bras they broghten bemes and of box, 

Of horn, of boon, in whiche they blewe and powjDgd,; 

And therwithal they skriked and they howped * 

It semed as that hevene sholde falle ! 535 

Now, goode men, I prey yow, herkneth allc. 

Lo, how Fortune turneth sodeynly 
The hope and pryde eek of hir enemy I 
This cok, that lay upon the foxes bak, 
In al his drede unto the fox he spak 640 

And seyde, * Sire, if that I were as ye, 
Yet sholde I seyn, as wys God helpe me ! 
" Turneth agayn, ye proude cherles alle ; , 
A verray pestilence upon yow falle ! (B 4600) 

Now I am come unto this wodes syde, 645 

M^jjgree youre heed the cok shal heere abyde ; 
I wo! hym etc, in feith, and that aribn."**" N 

619 eek cm. MS. 620 sore aferd] so fered MS. (see note}. 

622 They] The MS. 623 yolleden MS. 629 shille] shrille some 
MSS. 634 skriked] shriked some MSS. 638 eek om. MS. 

642 sholde] wolde MS. 645 this] the MS. 

of the Cok and the Fox 2 3 

The fox answerde, ' In feith, it shal be don.' 
And as he spak that word, al sodeynly < 

This cok brak from his mouth delyverly, 650 

And heighe upon a tree he fleigh anon. 
And whan the fox saugh that he was ygon, 

' Alias ! ' quod he, ' O Chauntecleer, alias ! 
I have to yow/ quod he, ' y-doon trespas, 
In as muche as I maked yow aferd 655 

Whan I yow hente and broght out of the yerd : 
But, sire, I dide it in no wikke entente ; 
Com doun, and I shal telle yow what I mente ; 
I shal seye sooth to yow, God help me so ! ' 

4 Nay, thanne,' quod he, ' I shrewe us bothe two, 660 
And first I shrewe myself, bothe blood and bones, 
If thou bigyle me any ofter than ones. 
Thou shalt namoore thurgh thy flaterye 
Do me to synge and wynke with myn eye ; (B 4620) 
For he that wynketh whan he sholde see, -665 

Al wilfully, God lat him nevere thee ! ' tfo/'***-^ ^** * 

* Nay, 5 quod the fox, * but God^yeveThym meschaunce 
That is so undiscreet of governaunce s 
That jangleth whan he sholde holde his pees ! * 
* Lo, swich it is for to be recchelees c u 670 

And necligent, and truste on flaterye ! ^ (i 

But ye that holden this tale a folye ,S ^ 
As of a fox, or of a cok and hen,~ 
Taketh the moralite, goode men ; 
For seint Poul seith that al that writen is 675 

To oure doctrfne it is y-write, ywis : c, \ \ .' 
Taketh the fruyt and lat the chaf be stille. " 
Now goode God, if that it be thy wille^ 
As seith my lord, so make us alle goode men, 
And brynge us to his heighe blisse. Amen. 680 

Heere is ended the Nonnes Preestes tale. 

652 ygon] gon MSS. except HarL 7334. 656 out of the] into this 

MS. and some others. 657 in] of MS. 662 any om. some MSS. 

675 Poul] Paul MS. 



The Monk's Tale 

M. T. 737 Cresus . . . Lyde\ Croesus, King of Lydia in Asia 
Minor, reputed to be the richest of men, was finally conquered by the 
Persians under Cyrus in 546 B.C. According to Herodotus, i. 87, 
he was saved by rain and spared by Cyrus. Chaucer's version 
comes from the Roman de la Rose (ed. Langlois, vol. Hi, 11. 6489 ff.), 
but not from the part that Chaucer translated. The Roman in turn 
draws on the Speculum Historiale iii. 17, compiled by Vincent of 
Beauvais (d. 1264), or on the mythographical collections which 
are Vincent's source. Cp. Chaucer's translation of Boethius de Con- 
solationePhilosophiae bk. ii, prose 2: Wystestow nat how Cresus, 
kyng of Lydyens, of whiche kyng Cirus was ful sore agast a lytil 
byforn, that this rewliche Cresus was caught of Cirus and lad to 
the fyer to ben brend ; but that a rayn descendede down fro hevene 
that rescowyde hym. 

M. T. 738 hym dradde : * feared for himself; 'dread' is 
commonly reflexive in early English. 

M, T. 741 f swich a reyn . , . That\ modern English uses 
1 such . . . as ' or such . . . that it. 

M. T. 743 ' But still he had not the grace to be cautious ', where 
grace = ' divine favour ' : it was not granted him to learn caution. 

M. T. 745 f. he lean nat stente For to begynne : ' he cannot refrain 
from beginning '. Chaucer's choice bet ween for to and to is usually 
governed by metrical convenience. 

M. T. 750 he mette\ 'he dreamed'; OE. ttmtan distinct from 
OE. metan 'to meet'. M&tan is both personal, as here, and 
impersonal, as in me mette 11. 128, 132, &c. Cp. note to 1. 12 below. 

M. T. 753 as that hym thoughte\ 'as it seemed to him'; see 
note to 1. 12 below. Observe Chaucer's free use of compound con- 
nectives, which give ease and flow to his verse : as that = as ; 
which that 'who' 758, 768; what that 'what* 468; wher(e] as 
'where' 6; 133; ther as 'where* 236; whan that 'when* 112, 
122; er that 'before' 333; syn that 'since' 577; though that 
' though ' 207 ; if that ' if 303 ; how that ' how ' 237. 


7 5" 3 ~77 1 The Monk's Tale 

M. T. 753 ff. Herodotus iii. 124 says that the daughter of Poly- 
crates, another ruler famous for his prosperity, had such a dream 
before her father's murder (522 B.C.) (Times Lit. SuppL 26 June 
1924). The stories seem to have been fused in the Middle Ages. 

M. T. 757~9 to his doghter . . . he bad hire: a broken construc- 
tion: command, which might have been used instead of bad, can be 
used with either construction. 

M. T. 760 bigan . . . expounde : * expounded ' ; cp. note to 1. 307, 

M. T. 761 is to meene : ' means ' the inflected infinitive, e. g. is to 
mzenanne, has the same use in Old English. 

M, T. 762 Juppiter\ Jupiter as the god of rain and storm. 

M. T. 764 Tho been . . .for to seyn : * they express' or ' signify ' ; 
cp. note to 1. 761. 

M. T. 767 The metre is halting. If emendation is needed, the 
addition of eek ' also ' after and does not harm a flat line. 

M. T. 768 Phanye : ' Phanie sa fille ' in Roman de la Rose. 1 
suspect that this unclassical name is due to misreading of a 
flourished m as ph in a MS. ; cp. Vincent of Beauvais : quod cum 
filiae suae wane indicasset (mane ' at dawn ' misread as phane, and 
interpreted as a proper name in apposition to filiae.} 

M. T. 77 iff. ' Tragedy is nothing but this; nor can (Tragedy) 
lament and bewail in song (i.e. tragic verse) (anything) except 
(this) : that Fortune &c. J Cp. Chaucer's Boethius^ bk. ii, prose 2. 
4 What other thynge bywaylen the cryinges of tragedyes but oonly 
the dedes of Fortune, that with unwar strook overturneth the 
realmes of greet nobleye ? ' ; and the gloss thereon * Tragedye is to 
seyn a dite of a prosperite for a tyme, that endeth in wrecchid- 
nesse '. 

The Nuns Priest's Tale 

I ff. The Monk is a man of rank, and so it falls to the Knight, 
the chief of the company and the most courteous, to interrupt him. 
But there is some evidence that in the form of the Prologue without 
11. 5-24 (see note to 1. i6flf.), the Host, not the Knight, was 
originally the interrupter. 

I. Chaucer often repeats an expression that was common in the 
colloquial use of his time : the Knight stops a quarrel between the 
Host and the Pardoner with ' Namore of this, for it is right ynough ' 
(C. 962) ; in the Knight's Tale Theseus twice parts Palamon and 
Arcite with ' Ho ! namore ' ; and Criseyde in Troilus iv, 1242 cries 
* But ho ! for we han right ynough of this.' 


Notes 2-1 6 

2-5 ' What you have said is quite enough indeed, and much 
more (than enough) ; for a little sadness is quite enough for 
many people, I am sure. For my part, I say it is very painful* &c. 

12 svuichthyng\ so 11. 13, 45. This is the old construction ; but 
such a thing appears early in Middle English ; and such things has 
since taken its place in most uses. 

it thynketh me : ' it seems to me \ The impersonal verb OE. 
pyncan 'to seem 1 became in many ME. forms indistinguishable 
from the personal verb, OE. pencan 'to think*. Chaucer still 
preserves several impersonal constructions which were lost in later 
English, e. g. hym thoughte 245, 248, 313 ; hir neded 68 ; hem leste 
4 it pleased them ' (OE. lystan)> ne liste hym 510 ; hym deigned 41$ 
(here a French verb takes the construction) ; it reweth me 331 * I 
am sorry ' (here it serves as a subject) ; cp. note to Monk's Tale 
750 above. The loss of impersonal constructions is due to the 
dropping of inflexions in the noun. Thus in 1. 346 Old English 
would have Cenhelm mdette if the construction were personal, but 
Cenhelme (dat.) wsette if it were impersonal. In Middle English the 
dative inflexion is lost except in pronouns ; Kenelm mette may be 
either personal or impersonal ; and as most verbs are personal, the 
small class of irnpersonals tends to disappear. 

14 Seinte Poules belle \ The ME. form Poul(e) is from Old 
French 7W; the modern Paul takes its spelling directly from 
Latin Paulus ; cp. note to 1. 675. While the city was still small (at 
this time its population was about 40,000), Old St. Paul's was 
a centre of civic life in a way that the modern cathedral cannot be. 
All the citizens would be within sound of its great bell, which was 
their common bell. So as early as the reign of Edward II they 
objected to the walling in of the eastern part of the churchyard, 
claiming it * to be the place of assembly to their folkmotes, and 
that the great steeple there scituate was to that use, their common 
bell, which being there rung, al the inhabitants of the citie might 
heare and come together' (Stowe Survey of London^ ed. Kingsford^ 
i, p. 325). There is a certain appropriateness in the reference, for 
Chaucer himself, the Host, Pardoner, Manciple, Cook, and others, 
lived in or near the city. 

i6ff. He refers to the last line of the Monk's Tale, and then to 
1. 771 fT. But this is begging a question : 

MSS. which end with Croesus have the tragedies in this order : 
Zen obi a, Peter of Spain, Peter of Cyprus ^Bernabo Visconti, Ugolino 
of Pisa> Nero, Hoiofernes, Antiochus, Alexander, Julius Caesar, 
Croesus. But the Ellesmere and other good MSS. have the four 
medieval stories (italicized) after Croesus. Defenders of the latter 
order explain, over-ingeniously, that the Host was drowsing (cp. 

i<J-28 The Nun's Priest's Tale 

I. 31), and that his last recollections are of Croesus, some loo lines 
before the Knight's interruption ! Observe that all the references 
to Croesus are in 11. 5-24, which are not in MSS. like Corpus and 
Hengwrt. It has been argued (see Miss Hammond's Bibliography, 
pp. 241 ff.) that in its first state Chaucer's text did not contain 
these lines, and certainly there is nothing to account for their 
omission by accident. Perhaps the MSS. give confusedly two 
states of the text, both due to Chaucer : (i) Monk's Tale ending 
with Ugolino ; Prologue without 11. 5-24 ; (ii) Monk's Tale ending 
with Croesus, and the much livelier Prologue containing the Host's 
jesting references, for which the moving tale of Ugolino gave no 
opportunity. It is hard now to judge the effect of the Prologue as if 

II. 5-24 had never been written ; but when they are absent 1. 42 has 
more meaning, for the Host's ' rude speech and bold ' then appears 
for the first time. Chaucer may have felt that to stop the tale 
immediately after the story of Ugolino, which is a masterpiece, was 
inartistic ; and that there was better ground for interruption if the 
Monk, after his modern examples which promised a speedy end to 
the series, wandered back to early Greek legend. 

18 no reme'diei Skeat took this as an echo of the Monk's opening 
lines : 

* 1 wol biwaille in manere of Tragedie . . . 

And fillen so that ther nas no reme'die. 

But there remtdie has quite a different sense. It is used in both 
places independently as a handy rime to tragtdie. 
23 anoyeth : ' wearies ' or ' is distasteful to '. 
26 daun Piers by your e name : the circumlocution is not intended 
to be comic ; cp. the Doctor's tale of Appius and Virginia (1. 213) : 

* Doghter ' quod he * Virginia by thy name '. 
Daun, Dan =' sir', Latin dominus\ another form Dom is 
still used in addressing a monk. Chaucer also uses it as a re- 
spectful title for distinguished persons of antiquity, e. g. daun 
Pharao 367 ; and, playfully, daun Russell 568. 

Piers is the French form of Peter, as in Piers Plowman and the 
modern surname Pierce, Pearse, &c. In the preamble to the Monk's 
Tale, the Host says he does not know the Monk's name : 
But by my trouthe I knowe nat youre name, 
Wher shal I calle you my lord daun John, 
Or daun Thomas, or elles daun Albon ? 

28 nere clynkyng &c. : * were it not for the clinking ' &c. Cp. 
the description of the Monk in the Prologue : 

And whan he rood men myghte his brydel heere 

Gynglen in a whistlynge wynd als cleere 

And eek as loude as dooth the chapel belle, &c. 


Notes 28-44 

It has been noted (Introduction, iv, end) that the frame of the 
Canterbury Tales is not very intimately connected with the stories ; 
but the links are closely joined with the general Prologue, and 
probably most of the frame was written about the same time. See 
note to 1. 37 fT. 

32 Medieval roads were not good, and a rider in spring time had 
to pick his way through the mud-holes. There is another reference 
to the * slough ' in the preamble to the Manciple's Tale, when the 
drunken Cook falls off his horse; 

34 thise clerkes : a common Middle English use of the demon- 
strative this, these, which does not imply that the 'clerkes* are 
particularized. We should say * the learned '. 

35 f. The Vulgate Bible has * Ubi auditus non est non efTundas 
sermonem ' (Ecclus. xxxii. 6), which Chaucer translates in his tale 
of Melibeus : 'Ther as thou ne mayst have noon audience, enforce 
thee nat to speke' (B 2237) ; explaining : ' he that precheth to hem 
that listen nat heeren his wordes, his sermon hem anoieth '. 

37 ff. * And I know well that I have in me the stuff (of a good 
listener) if a thing is well told '. This leads up to the next line 
if the Monk will tell some hunting story he will not find the Host 
unappreciative. The Monk's qualifications as a hunter are referred 
to in the Prologue, 178, 198 fT. 

43 the Nonnes Freest-, one of the three priests (Prol. 164) in 
attendance on the First Nun, i.e. the Prioress. Some prefer the 
form Nonne Freest, in which Nonne is the historical gen. sg. 
fem. < OE. nunnan ; but by Chaucer's time the declension could 
follow the masculine nouns with a genitive in -es. There is no 
description of this Priest in the Prologue, but a few inferior MSS. 
contain an unfinished speech of the Host, which serves as 
Epilogue to the Nun's Priest's Tale and seems to be of Chaucer's 
own drafting. The following lines from it indicate that he was of 
the same brawny, florid, well-fed type as the Monk and the Friar; 
and give point to the Host's remarks about the wretched horse that 
had to carry him : 

Se whiche braunes hath this gentil Preest, 
So gret a nekke, and swich a large breest ! 
He loketh as a sperhauke with hise eyen! 
Him nedeth nat his colour for to dyghen 
\Vith brasile ne with greyn of Portyngale ! 
Now, sire, faire falle yow for youre tale. 

44. neer : ' nearer ', still a true comparative of nigh, 

sir John : an old nickname for a priest, who was properly 
addressed as sir. Here it appears to be a real name, cp. 1. 54. 


4464 The Nuns Priests Tale 

Note that few of the pilgrims are given surnames, which were a 
comparatively late development. Harry Bailly the Host, and 
Chaucer himself are exceptions. 

47. The reference to the Nun's Priest's scraggy horse may seem 
to be irrelevant ; but it is introduced to make the picture sharp, 
and also implies that the Priest had to bear a good deal of chaff 
from his fellow-pilgrims because of his wretched mount. Chaucer 
had an eye for horses : the Knight's were * goode ' (Prol. 74), the 
Monk's ' in greet estaat (Prol. 203), the Clerk's nag was ' as leene as 
is a rake' (287) ; the Shipman 'rood upon a rouncy, as he kouthe' 
(390) ; the Wife of Bath * upon an amblere ' (469) ; the Plowman 
'upon a mere' (541) ; the Reeve 'upon a ful good stot, That was 
al pomely grey, and highte Scot* (615) j the Canon, who caught up 
the pilgrims at Boughton-under-Blee, had a horse of the same 
colour, sweating so * that it wonder was to see ' ; and his Yeoman's 
horse was * of foom al flekked as a pye ' (Canon Yeoman's 

50 so moot 1 go ! \ in early use go is frequently used in the narrow 
sense ' walk ' (see the juxtaposition to ride in the sixth verse 
quoted in the note to 1. 113). Hence ' so may I go ! ' = ' so may 
1 enjoy the use of my legs', and is exactly parallel to 1. 534 (see 

55 somdeel stape in age\ somewhat advanced in age ', f well on 
in years 5 ; stapen in age occurs in Merchant's Tale, E 1514; and 
stept in age (yeares) is common in Elizabethan English. 

57 grave : OE. has both grx,f> ME. greve^ and grof> ME. 
grove, 1. 450. Chaucer's rimes show greve only. This is the wood 
of the Roman de Renart ; cp. 11. 570, 645 below. 

59 Syn thilkt day^ c. : a mere formula for * since her husband 
died ', with no implication that she had had more than one hus- 

6 1 'for her property and her revenues were small'. In the 
Prologue 373 it is said of the burgesses : ' For catel hadde they 
ynogh and rente'. Catel (modern cattle) and chattel are the 
Northern French and the Parisian French forms of the same 
word, Latin capitale * principal', * property'. In the sixteenth 
century catel was more and more restricted to live-stock, and from 
that time chattel came into use in the legal sense of movable 

62 ' By careful management of such goods as God sent her she 
provided for (Joond) herself, and her two daughters also.' 

64 and namo : These empty phrases are very handy for rime- 
making. Chaucer uses them less in the rimed couplet than in the 
more difficult stanza forms ; but he takes little pains to disguise 


Notes 64-83 

his tags. Many of the oaths and asseverations serve this purpose, 
e.g. by that God above 143, 151 ; pardee 162 ; for Goddes owene 
love 188; for seinte charitee 554; so have I bits 392 ; so moot I 
thee 210 (see note) ; / wol nat lye 179. Another kind is represented 
by grete and lyte 166. Some are adverbs : for the nones 567 ; 
on a day 347. Others are phrases like quod he 251, 277; as ye 
may heere 486 (cp. 497 f.) ; / can sey you namoore 203 ; my tale is 
at an ende 316. Notice also Chauntedeer the fair e 453; so free 
503. All are useful in spoken verse, which cannot be so concen- 
trated as verse intended for a reader. 

66 Her cottage was of two rooms the bower or bedroom and 
the hall or living-room, this last not an elegant room, for Chantecler 
and his hens roosted there at night (1. 118). It was sooty from the 
open fire, which perhaps had a central hearth and no chimney. 

70 accordant to hir cote : ' in keeping with her cottage '. 

73 hertes sujpsatmce : 'contentment*. 

74 The goute &c. : * gout did not stop her dancing at all 
(nothyng] ' ; i. e. she was not troubled by gouty feet. 

76 neither whit ne reed : for the effects of these, see Pardoner's 
Tale, C. 562 ff. : 

Now kepe yow fro the white and fro the rede, 
And namely fro the white wyn of Lepe 
That is to selle in Fysshstrete or in Chepe ! 
This wyn of Spaigne crepeth subtilly 
In othere wynes growynge faste by, 
Of which ther ryseth swich fumositee 
That whan a man hath dronken draughtes thre, 
And weneth that he be at hoom in Chepe, 
lie is in Spaigne right at the toune of Lepe ! 

79 f. ' broiled (or smoked ?) bacon and sometimes an egg or two, 
for she was, so to speak, a kind of dairy-keeper.' 

80 a maner deye\ a common construction, cp. Monk's Tale 771 
above : noon oother maner thyng. Old English had a phrase with the 
genitive plural of cynn l kin ', e. g. ealra cynna wildeor 'wild beasts ' 
of all kinds. With weakening of the inflexions in ME., this became 
alte cynne bestes, later al kyn bestes^ and the true construction was 
no longer felt. When the French noun maner(e) was borrowed, it 
was properly construed with of: al maner of bestes ; an manere of 

fishe ; but it also took the construction of kyn : al maner bestes ; 
a maner fish. Ultimately of survived in both phrases : all kinds 
of beasts ; what manner of man? 

83 ff. There is a great deal of mock-heroics in this description, 
e. g. in 1. 97, and it is worth comparing the descriptions in Sir 

3 1 

8 3-8 y The Nuns Priest's Tale 

Thopas. A late Middle English song runs (partly normal- 
ized) : 

I have a gentil cok 
Croweth me day ; 
He doth me rysen erly 
My matynes for to say. 

I have a gentil cok, 

Comen he is of gret ; * * great stock. 

His comb is of reed coral, 

His tayl is of jet. 

I have a gentil cok, 

Comen he is of kynde ; 2 2 high lineage. 

His comb is of reed coral, 

His tayl is of inde ; 3 'dark blue. 

His legges ben of asour 4 4 azure. 

So gentil and so smale ; 
His spors arn of sylver whyt 

Into the wortewale ; 6 6 root. 

His eyen arn of cristal 

Locken al in amber ; 
And every nyght he percheth hym 

In myn ladyes chamber. 

(Brit. Mus. Sloane MS. 2593). 

83 heet Chauntedeer : best taken as an ellipse of the relative (cp. 
the note to 1. I33f.)i *( wno ) was called Chantecler', where heet is 
the past tense of OE. hatan> used in the passive sense. The 
variant reading highte may either be construed in the same way 
(cp. that hightt Malle above) or as a past participle ' named '. For 
the complicated history of this verb, see N. E. D. 

84 of crowyng nas his peer : ' there was not his equal in crowing '. 
Middle English often dispenses with the temporary subject ' there 1 
or 'it': e.g. were goodly 'it would be good' 13; nere clynkyng 
'were it not for the clinking' 28; bifd, 116, 235, 425, 'it 
happened ' ; happed so, 221. 

85 f. ort>6n . . . gon : the 3rd ^\. gon (the 3rd sg. is gotK) indicates 
that orgon is plural ; and Latin organa is a neuter plural because 
the instrument is made up of many pipes. But as there is no 
parallel in English for orgon plural, it is perhaps better to assume 
a careless construction here, influenced by the necessities of rime : 
'pleasanter (to hear) than the sweet-toned organ, (those} that 
play in the church on feast-days '. 


Notes 8 8-1 1 1 

88 Note the scansion, any^abbey (three syllables), which is not 
uncommon in Chaucer ; cp. note to 1. 135. 

89 ff. The equinoctial is the celestial equator, an imaginary circle 
through the heavens so drawn that the ecliptic (i. e. the circle 
representing the apparent annual course of the sun) cuts it at the 
equinoxes, 21 March and 23 September. Any point in the 
circumference of the equinoctial was supposed to be moving round 
it towards the west, completing the circle of 360 in 24 hours. 
Thus 15 of the equinoctial represents one hour. Now if we 
imagine a point in the equinoctial which ascends (i. e. rises above 
the horizon) at 6 a.m., then by 7 a.m. it will have travelled 15 
along the equinoctial, and a second point in the equinoctial 
corresponding to 7 a.m. will be rising above the horizon. The 
Cock knew by nature the positions of each of these imaginary 
points, and so was able to crow every hour according to sidereal 
time. But it was local sidereal time, depending on the longitude 
of the town in which the observer was ; so Chaucer has a purpose 
when he specifies in thilke toun. On the ability of cocks as 
astronomers Pliny in his Natural History ', x. 21, says: * Norunt 
sidera, et ternas distinguunt horas interdiu cantu ', &c. 

90 Scan : th'eqiiynoxial (five syllables). Skeat follows some 
MSS. in omitting the, but the invariable use of the article with 
equinoxial in Chaucer's Astrolabe seems decisive. 

92 * So that it could not be bettered ', * perfectly '. 

102 as of colours'. 'in colour'; here 'as* may be rendered 'in 
respect of 1 , but comparison with 227 as for that nyght) 319 as for 
that day^ 234 as in commune ' commonly ', shows that it has 
practically no meaning. Cp. note to 1. 673. 

103 the fairest e hewed on hir throte : l she who had the brightest 
feathers on her throat '. The mention of Pertelote's throte is 
suggested by the difficulty of finding rimes for her name. In the 
only other rime throte is used again (11. iigf.). We must picture 
her as an old-fashioned varicoloured barndoor-fowl, not one of the 
modern pure breeds. 

104 damoysele : apparently disyllabic like modern damsel, and 
fairt takes the weak adjective inflexion, either because it is a quoted 
vocative (cp. 339), or because the weak adjective is preferred before 
proper names. 

108 ff. ' She has in her keeping the heart of Chantecler (whose) 
every limb (was) bound fast (by love). He loved her so that his 
happiness was complete ' (lit. ' happiness came (was) to him with 
it '). But this paraphrase of the first sentence is more logical than 
the original. See note to 1. 113. 

Ill swich a joye was it\ this is a natural enough form of 


1 1 1 i 3)* The Nuns Priest's Tale 

exclamation in modern English, but where there is no correlative 
clause, Middle English uses which a joy \ The earliest examples of 
such in this sense in N.E. D. are from the sixteenth century, so 
perhaps the construction is broken here. 

hem : the Cock is ordinarily the songster ; but Pertelote and 
Chantecler are no mere Cock and Hen they are a lady and her 
knight. Hence they sing an old English song ' in sweete accord '. 
Elsewhere Chantecler has a shirt (1. 354) and a beard (1. 154) ; and 
Pertelote's ideal husband is the same as any other woman's 
(1. 146 ff.). This trick of giving the animals human attributes is 
carried to great lengths in the later Reynard stories, where they 
ride horses, fight in armour, &c. Chaucer uses it more delicately 
to extract the maximum of fun from the story. 

113 My lief is far en in londe\ ' My love has gone away*. Skeat 
(Athenseum, 24 Oct. 1896, p. 566) found a verse of this song in 
Trinity College, Cambridge MS. R. 3. 19, and it must have been 
running in Chaucer's bead when he wrote 11. 108-9 : 

My lefe ys faren in lond ; 

Alias ! why ys she so ? 
And I am so sore bound x 1 ? read'm bonde. 

I may nat com her to. 
She hath my hert in hold 

Wherever she ryde or go, 
With trew love a thousandfold, 

121 as man that : Mike one who'; cp. 512, 557. Here man is 
used as an indefinite pronoun, like OE. man ' one ', but it is not a 
continuation of that use. 

125 Ye been a verray skpere : ' A fine sleeper you are ! ' 

I27f. 'I pray you don't be offended. I dreamt I was in such 
trouble just now that ', c. 

128 By God! Like French mon Dieu, German mein Gott. Such 
oaths and asseverations were common form in Chaucer's time, 
despite the efforts of preachers (cp. Pardoner's Tale C. 629 ff.), and 
their frequency weakened their force. They were swept out of 
literary use by the Puritan reform. Cp. note to 1. 64. 

1 30 recche aright : ' interpret favourably ', in the sense ( give a 
fortunate issue to '. 

133 f. 'Where I saw a beast (that) was like a dog, and that 
would have seized me and killed me'. In early English the 
relative is often not expressed, but relation is indicated by juxta- 
posing the principal and relative clauses ; so 1. 409 ' He hadde 
founde a corn lay in the yerd ' = ' that lay '. Cp. note to 1. 83. 

135 han\ I retain the reading of the more careful MSS. against 


Notes I3J--KJO 

wolde han of the independent Corpus group of MSS. ; but the 
choice is difficult. If han is original, wolde may be miscopied from 
the line above. If ivolde han is original, ivolde may have been dis- 
carded by some early corrector as unnecessary to the sense and the 
metre. Yet Chaucer would probably scan body and as two syllables, 
not three. Cp. body is (two syllables) 253 ; many a (two syllables) 
209, c. ; and note to 1. 88. 

139 his snowte smal : ' his muzzle slim '. Cp. 1. 542 n. 

140 his look : it is hard to decide whether this means ' the 
expression of his eyes ', or the whole appearance of the beast 
* the look of him '. 

142 hertelees: ' coward', cp. 1. 145. 

144 myn . . . my : note that myn is used before a vowel or initial 
h ; my before a consonant. 

148 ff. So Hercules told Hypsipyle that Jason was 'wyse, hardy, 
secree and ryche * and excelling in * fredome ', Leg. Good Women 
1528 ff. ; and the merchant's wife in the Shipman's Tale B. 1363 ff. 
says all women require husbands to be * Hardy and wise, and 
riche, and therto free '. Avauntours * boasters ', with reference 
to those who brag of their success in love ; cp. Troilus ii. 724 ff. 

151 f. By that God above ! . . . love: note the repetition of 1. 143 
and the rime. To introduce above was almost the only way of 
riming love, for dove still had a long vowel in Chaucer's day, and 
though shove as a past participle would rime, its meaning lessened 
its usefulness. 

156 vanitee : in its etymological sense ' emptiness*. 

157 ff. On compleccioun, humour, repleccioun (which can also 
mean ' over-eating ' as in 1. 71) see note to 1. 160 ff. Fiime is 
noxious vapours, supposed to arise from the stomach and trouble 
the brain. 

160 ff. Pertelote's diagnosis is minutely adapted to the symptoms. 
Diseases were supposed to arise from the excess (repleccioun) of 
one or more of the four * humours ' or bodily moistures : cholera or 
yellow-red bile in choleric persons, melancholia or black bile in the 
melancholic, blood in the sanguine, phlegm in the phlegmatic ; 
and the particular blending of these humours in any one person 
determined his ' temperament ' or ' complexion ' both meaning 
properly ' blending '. Further, the excess of a humour produced 
dreams in which the corresponding colour occurred the choleric 
dreamt of fiery red things (163 ff.) ; the melancholic of black things 
(167 ff.) ; Chantecler has dreamt of a beast betwixe yelow and reed 
with black markings. It follows that he is suffering from excess of 
yellow-red and black bile, and that the treatment is physic to purge 
him of colere and maUncolye (1. 1 80). 

2751-2 35 D 

i<Ji 174 The Nuns Priest* s Tale 

161 comth ofthegrete\ the Ellesmere MS. has the uncontracted 
Cometh, which often disturbs the rhythm in MSS. of Chaucer (e. g. in 
Pardoner's Tale C. 656 ; Parlement of Fowles, 11. 23, 25) ; and also 
the unmetrical and ungrammatical the greet, where the weak 
adjectival form grete must be restored. Such a line shows that even 
the best MSS. cannot be relied on to reproduce the details of 
Chaucer's own manuscript. They were copied in the fifteenth 
century, when the grammatical forms on which his metre depends 
had to some extent broken down. 

i63f. dreden ...of: the construction might seem to favour the 
variant reading dremen for dreden \ but in Middle English dreden 
can take ^/governing the thing dreaded ; cp. M.T. 738 above. 

164-6 'Fire with red flames' and 'red beasts' are obvious 
dreams arising from the fiery ' cholera '. Conteks, ' quarrels ', are 
scenes of violence, for Contek is personified ' with blody knyf 
and sharpe manace J (Knight's Tale A. 2003). The commonest dogs 
(ivhelpes) may have been of the yellowish-red kind, but more likely a 
dogfight troubled the sleeper. It is not easy to see the appropriate- 
ness of arrows, unless fiery arrows are meant. 

169 beres should be two syllables, so that the variant reading in 
the footnote is smoother. 

1 70 Either (i) the relative is omitted : or else black devils (who) 
try to seize them* (cp. 1. 165 and note to 1. 133 f.) ; or (ii) the con- 
struction is broken = ' or else (they dream that) black devils ', &c. 

172 werken . .fitlwo: the phrase occurs elsewhere, z.g.Havelok 
2453 (cp. ibid. 611). Wo is properly a noun, and is construed with 
a dative, e. g. him was wo. When the dative was a noun without 
inflexion, (John was wo), John was understood as the subject, 
and wo as an adjective 'woeful', with which the intensive adverb 
//// could be used John was fid wo. In werken fill wo, it 
seems that//// has become attached to the noun wo, because it was 
often used with wo adj. Translate 'cause much distress '. 

174 f. Catoun\ Dionysius Cato, to whom the Disticha Catonis, 
a fourth-century collection of moral sayings in Latin verse, are 
attributed. It was in regular use as a school-book up to the 
seventeenth century, and was prescribed in the statutes of many 
old grammar schools. The saying referred to is in Book ii, 
distich 32 : 

Somnia ne cures, nam mcns humana quod optat 
Dum vigilat sperat, per sompnum cernit idipsum. 
ne do no fors of dremes ' attach no importance to dreams ' trans- 
lates the italicized words. There is an Old English and several 
Middle English versions of the Distichs. See Wells, Manual^ pp. 
378, 822. 


Notes 177-199 

177 as taak\ 'take*. This form of the imperative with as 
(sometimes so) is very common in Chaucer, but has yet to be 
recorded outside his works. It is a polite form in which as, so 
make the command less abrupt, and seems to be modelled on the 
subjunctive ' as (so) help me God ', &c. 

1*82 Though in this toun is noon apothecarie\ a precise detail, 
but the rimes to some extent steer the sense. So tarie : apothecarit 
rime in the Pardoner's Tale, C. 85 1 f. 

183 tec hen : ' direct '. 

1 86 * Which have naturally (by kynde) from their special virtue 
(propretee) (the power) to purge you, upwards and downwards 
(bynethe and eek above) '. 

189 coleryk of compleccibun : the description of the Cock, with his 
coral-red comb and feathers of burnished gold, is sufficient warrant 
for this ; see note to 1. 160 fif. Complexion now has the narrow 
sense * colour & texture of the skin of the face*, the face being 
regarded as the index of the ' complexion ' or blending of humours 
in the body. 

190 f. Ware^ &c. : ' Beware lest the sun, as his altitude increases 
(during summer), should find you full of hot humours '. The 
humours were classified as hot and cold, dry and moist. C holer 
was hot and dry, Blood was hot and moist. 

\^ feveretertianei a fever increasing in violence every other 
day, as distinct from a quotidian, in which the crises came every 
day, and a quartan in which it came every third day. On the old 
way of reckoning what we should call every second day was called 
every third (tertianus). 

197-9 After the worms taken as a digestive (i.e. a medicine to 
promote digestion of food, here chosen with an eye to the habits of 
birds), the following herbs were used as laxatives : 

lawriol: the spurge laurel (Daphne laureola). A Boke of 
the Properties of Herbes (1550) says: 'it wyll make a man 
laxaty ve and it is good to purge a man of flewme and of the coler.* 

centaure : the lesser centaury (Erythraea centaurium) used to 
purge choler and phlegm. 

fumetere : ' fumitory ' (Fumaria officinalis). Another purge 
for melancholy : * it openelh the lyver and it clereth a man's blode.' 

ellebor : there are two kinds, the black (Helleborus niger} 
'called blacke . . . because it purgeth the coleryke blacke humours' 
according to The Great Herball of Treviris (1526) ; and the white 
( Veratrtun album) which was particularly used against phlegm 
and ' purgeth upward by vomyte ' ibid. 

katapuce\ According to the authority just quoted 'it is the 
frute or sede of a tree that is called catapucia, and whan catapucia 

37 D 2 

199 2I 7 The Nun s Priest* s Tale 

is founde in receptes, it is meant the fruyte and not the herbe . . . 
It hath vertu to purge the flewmes principally, and secondly the 
melancholy ke coleryke humours. It hath might to purge above 
because it causeth wind that restrayneth the humoures upwarde.' 

gaitrys beryis : apparently berries of the buckthorn \Rhamnus 
catharticus), a strong purgative, formerly considered effective 
against choler. In modern dialects gaiter berries or gattridge 
berries are usually the berries of Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea), but 
its berries have no medicinal use, and are very like those of buck- 
thorn. Neither kind can be gathered in May. 

198 that growdh there \ a forced rime, but there can be referred 
back to in oure yeerd in 1. 185. 

200 herbe-yve: perhaps the buck's horn, coronopus, OFr. herbe 
yve. Oddly enough, though the rhythm shows that yve is a mono- 
syllable, the commentators have taken it as a kind of zVy, OE. ifig, 
which must be two syllables, and have been hard put to it to ex- 
plain the medical use of ivy. Buck's horn has the medicinal pro- 
perties of the plantains, which were given to cure jaundice and 
tertian fevers. 

in oure yeerd ther mery is : another of Chaucer's forced rimes. 
He is often driven to this device of riming the plural ending with 
the verb is (cp. I55f., 469 f.) ; and beryis is a troublesome word, 
for which rimes were almost impossible to find ; ther = ' where ' : 
translate ' in that pleasant spot in our yard ', or possibly l in our 
pleasant yard '. 

201 Note the scansion : 

'Pdkke^hem up | right as | they grovve, | and ete | hem yn *. 

202 for your e fader kyn : ' for the sake of your father's stock ' ; 
where fader is a correct old form of the genitive sg. Often a mere 
tag ; but Chantecler was proud of his race, and the Fox played on 
the same string (529 ff.). 

210 so moot I thee ! : * so may I prosper ! ' Ql^.fieon ' to thrive ' ; 
cp. 666 and note to 1. 50. 

213 ff. On the significance of dreams, see Hous of Fame (at the 
beginning), Roman de la Rose (the beginning), and Troilusv. 358 ff. 
Curiosity about their interpretation gave rise to an important branch 
of popular literature the * dream-books ', of which the medieval 
examples trace back to Byzantine Greek sources. There are texts 
in Anglo-Saxon and in Middle English; but beyond the general 
statement that to dream of being attacked by a beast, or indeed to 
dream of any quadruped, meant trouble, they do not help much. 

217 * The actual result (preeve) shows it, in practice' ; if preevj 
means * test of experience ', the general sense is the same. 




218 con of the gretteste auctour : so the best MSS. In Middle 
English there ic a fairly common construction 'one the greatest 
(man) ' like Latin units maximus. In late Middle English 4 one of 
the greatest (men) ', i. e. ' one from among the greatest ', tends to 
replace it. Here we seem to have a transitional stage, with of from 
the new construction and the singular auctour from the old. 
Cp. Melibeus (B. 2868) 'yeknowen wel that oon of the g'retteste and 
moost sovereyn thyng that is in this world '. The author referred 
to is either Cicero, who in De Divinatione i, c. 27, tells both stories 
in reverse order, or Valerius Maximus who has the second story at 
i, c. 8 (3) and the first at i, c. 8 (10) of his Facia et Dicta Memora- 
bilia. Valerius borrows from Cicero, and it is hard to say which 
author Chaucer's free versions derive from, for where he seems 
nearer to Valerius, the chances of coincidence in variation from 
Cicero are great. Here are the two versions : 

Cicero i. 27. 

(i) Unum deSimonide: qui 
cum ignotum quendam pro- 
iectum mortuum vidisset 
eumque humauisset, haberet- 
que in animo nauem con- 
scendere, moneri visus est ne 
id faceret ab eo quern sepul- 
tura adfecerat ; si nauigauis- 
set, eum naufragio esse peri- 
turum ; itaque Simonidem 
rediisse, periisse ceteros qui 
turn nauigauissent. 

(ii) Alterum ita traditum, 
clarum admodum somnium : 
cum duo quidam Arcades 
familiares iter una facerent 
et Megaram venissent, alte- 
rum ad coponeir deuertisse, 
ad hospitem alterum ; qui ut 
cenati quiescerent concubia 
nocte visum esse in somnis 
ei qui erat in hospitio, ilium 
alterum orare ut subueniret, 
quod sibi a copone interitus 

Valerius Maximus i. c. 8 (3). 

(i) Longe indulgentius dii in 
poeta Simonide cuius salutarem 
inter quietem admonitionem con- 
silii firmitate roborarunt. Is enim 
cum ad litus nauem appulisset in- 
humatumque corpus iacens sepul- 
turae mandasset, admonitus ab eo 
ne proximo die nauigaret, in terra 
remansit. Qui inde soluerant, 
fluctibus et procellis in conspectu 
eius obruti sunt ; ipse laetatus est 
quod vitam suam somnio quam naui 
credere maluisset. Memor autem 
beneficii elegantissimo carmine ae- 
ternitati consecrauit, melius illi et 
diuturnius in animis hominum se- 
pulcrum constituens quam in de- 
sertis et ignotis harenis struxerat. 
ibid., c. 8 (10). 

(ii) Proximum somnium etsi paulo 
est longius, propter nimiam tamen 
euidentiam ne omittatur impetrat. 
Duo familiares Arcades iter urm 
facientes Megaram uenenrht, 
quorum alter se ad hospitem con- 
tulit, alter in tabernam meritoriam 
deuertit. Is qui in hospitio erat 


2 1 82 5* i The Nuns Priest* s Tale 

pararetur : eum primo per- 
territum somnio surrexisse, 
dein cum se conlegisset idque 
visum pro nihilo habendum 
esse duxisset, recubuisse ; 
turn ei dormienti eundem 
ilium visum esse rogare ut, 
quoniam sibi viuo non sub- 
uenisset, mortem suam ne 
inultam esse pateretur : se 
interfectum in plaustrum a 
copone esse coniectum et su- 
pra stercus iniectum; petere 
ut mane ad portam adesset, 
priusquam plaustrum ex op- 
pido exiret. Hoc vero eum 
somnio commotum mane bu- 
bulco praesto ad portam 
fuisse, quaesisse ex eo quid 
esset in plaustro : ilium per- 
territum fugisse, mortuum 
erutum esse, coponem re pate- 
facta poenas dedisse. 

vidit in somniis comitem suum 
orantem ut sibi coponis insidiis 
circumuento subueniret : posse enim 
celeri eius adcursu se imminent! 
periculo subtrahi. Quo visu exci- 
tatus prosiluit tabernarnque, in qua 
is deuersabatur, petere conatus est. 
Pestifero deinde fato eius humanis- 
simum propositum tamquam super- 
uacuum damnauit et lectum ac 
soinnum repetit. Tune idem ei 
saucius oblatus obsecrauit ut, 
quoniam vitae suae auxilium ferre 
neglexisset, neci saltern ultionern 
non negaret : corpus enim suum a 
copone trucidatum turn maxime 
plaustro ferri ad portam stercore 
coopertum. Tarn constantibus fami- 
liaris precibus compulsus protinus 
ad portam cucurrit et plaustrum, 
quod in quiete demonstratum erat, 

conprehendit coponemque ad capi- 
tale supplicium perduxit. 
Probably Chaucer had the stories neither from Cicero nor Valerius, 
but from some medieval collection in which the classical source was 
quoted. Miss Petersen On the Sources, c. has suggested use of 
Libri Sapientiae^ by Robert Holkot (d. 1349) which contains both 
stories (they are not connected) with a reference to Valerius, as 
well as a good deal of matter on dreams, &c. that has close parallels 
in Chaucer. But the range of material in the Middle Ages was 
narrow, the topic was popular, and the chance of coincidence great. 
It is possible, but not likely, that Chaucer drew upon Holkot. 

219-34 All this is expanded to suit medieval conditions from the 
simple statement in Cicero and Valerius that two men on their way 
to Megara spent the night, one with a friend, the other at an inn. 

221-3 ' a town where so many people were gathered, and (which) 
was so short of accommodation that ', &c. 

231 fer in a yeerd\ * far down a yard 1 ; the point is that he was 
far away from the house and the street, and therefore far from help. 

250 morwe-tyde\ * morning', cp. 464, 488. That tomorive 315 
is * to-morrow morning* ^ not simply * to-morrow' in the modern 
sense, appears from 1. 309. 

25 1 the ivestgate : the medieval town was regularly walled against 
enemies, and the gates were often called after the quarter in which 


Notes 2 y 1-29 1 

they were placed. So the writer of the Ayenbyte is called Dan 
Michel of Northgate ; and Eastgate, Westgate, Southgate are still 
common personal names. 

254 do Mike carte arresten: 'cause (somebody) to arrest it', 
'have it stopped' a regular ME. use of do + infinitive. 

258 trustei for the imperative plural Chaucer uses indifferently 
the normal form in -eth> e. g. herkneth 636, turneth 643 ; or a 
shorter form in -, as here. A good example of the alternatives is 
Clerk's Tale, 11. 7-20. 

260 /;/ : ' inn '. 

263 answtrede: MS. answerde, but it is better not to assume 
that t before hym is syllabic. Cp. the quotation in the note to 
1. 673 ff., where the MS. again has answerde ; and note to 
1. 318 f. 

266 gan fallen in suspecioun : 4 became suspicious ' ; cp. 1. 307 n. 
Note the variant reading. 

' 270 as it were: oddly used, perhaps to indicate the ostensible 
purpose, the real purpose being to hide the body. But the suspicious 
construction, and the occurrence of <wente in so many good MSS. 
(see footnote), cannot be neglected : the reading 

A d6ng-|carte we'nte | as it were | to d6ng[e 16nd 

is possibly right. 

273 with an hardy herte : = boldely, 254. 

276 gapyng upright : ' face upwards (upright) with mouth open* 
i. e. with the jaw dropped in death. Note the scansion 

And in | this cdrte | heere he lith | gapyng | upright | 

as if to suggest hurried and excited speech. 

280 What shelde I . . . ? : ' Why should I . . . ? ' 

284 ff. Opposite these lines the Ellesmere MS. has Auctor, 

indicating that they are to be read as a comment by Chaucer. 

286 Mordre wol out : an instance of the ellipse of a verb of 
motion after willy which was still common in Shakespeare's time, 
e.g. * I will myself into the pulpit fast', Julius Caesar, in. i. 236. 
The proverb occurs again in the Prioress's Tale B. 1766. 

287 abhomynable\ the spelling with h is due to a false etymology, 
ab homine, as if ' alien to man's nature'. The true derivation is 
Latin ab-ominari, ' to turn away from as of ill-omen '. 

291 this my conclusibun: common in Middle English for the 
fuller expression this is ; so Parlement of Fowles 620, this my con- 
clusion. The copyists sometimes inserted is where the rhythm 
shows that it should be omitted, e. g. Franklin's Tale F. 889 

As kepe | my lord ! | this is my | conclu|sioun ; 

2 9 1 3 1 2 77; Nuns Priest's Tale 

Clerk's Tale 56 

But this | is his ta|le which | that ye | may heere. 

293 f. pyned . . . engyned\ 'tortured . . . racked* methods of 
securing a confession which were long considered a necessary part 
of judicial procedure. 

297 to drede : ' to be dreaded ', the Old English gerundial 
infinitive to drwdanne. Chaucer uses for to drede in the same 
sense when it is metrically convenient, e.g. 1. 343. Cp. note to 
Monk's Tale 745 f. 

299 right in the nexte chapitre after this : in Cicero Chaucer's 
second story precedes the first ; in Valerius Maximus it is several 
sections earlier (cp. note to 1. 218). Either Chaucer is writing from 
memory, or he took the stories from some intermediary in which 
they were rearranged. Holkot has them in the same order as 
Chaucer, but they are not close together. 

301 Two men that: Chaucer gets lost in the succession of 
subordinate clauses beginning with that, and there is no formal 
predicate to two men. 

37 g an chaunge and blew: f changed and blew' -a good 
example of gan + infinitive used to express the simple preterite; 
cp. 11. 112, 237, 266, 408, 516. Bigan is sometimes used in the 
same way with no inchoative sense, e.g. Monk's Tale 760. It is 
often difficult to decide whether the best rendering is the preterite, 
e.g. 11. 120, 262, 273, 321. 

309 casten hem : ' made up their minds ', * resolved ' an earlier 
example of this reflexive use of cast than those in N.E.D. 

310 (herknetli) : the verse is complete without this word ; but such 
extra-metrical asides are too common in Middle English to be 
rejected off-hand : cp. Sir Orfeo 419 

4 O lord/ (he seyd), < jif it thi wille were '. 
There is an instance in Chaucer's Legend of Good Women 1338 

(And seyde) ' swete cloth, while Juppiter hit leste ', 
which Skeat emends by omitting swete, and the Globe edition by 
altering Juppiter to Jove. The licence belongs to the tradition of 
spoken verse, where the minstrel could by his tone distinguish the 
intrusive words from the verse proper. 

311 f. that oon . . . hym mette : mette l dreamt ' is either personal 
or impersonal (note to Monk's Tale 750 above), and here it seems 
to be both. Probably this is a loose construction ; but that oon 
. . . hym may be taken together as a dative equivalent. 

312 agayn the day: 'just before dawn '. Dreams after midnight 
were regarded as more significant than dreams early in the night. 
Cp. 11. 116, 235. 


Notes 318-328 

318 f. preyede . . . preyede : MS. preyde . . . preycle, and the 
editors make up the metre by assuming that the final -e of preyde 
is syllabic, though it should normally be elided before hym as in 
Man of Law's Tale 1084 

She preyd|e w hym eek | he wold|e by | no weye, 
or B. 1718 This preyd|e w he hym | to conjstrue and | declare. 
But the same form preyde disturbs the normal scansion over and 
over again, e.g. Miller's Tale A. 3838 

And that | he prey|de hem | for godjdes love ; 
E. 680 Save this | she preyjde hym | that if | he mighte ; 

D. 959 He prey|de hire | that to | no crejature ; 

C. 853 And prey|de hym | that he | hym wold|e selle ; 

E. 1631 And prey|de hem | to la|boure in | this nede; 
F.3H And prey|de hym | to tell|e^his gojvernaunce. 
In D. 895 So long|e preyjden | the King | of grace, 

it is impossible to get round the difficulty by assuming syllabic -e 
in hiatus, so the editors read preyeden, and this is the solution of 
all such passages. Chaucer used two forms, preyede and preyde, 
but the scribes have usually altered preyede to preyde, spoiling the 
metre; cp. note to 1. 263. This choice of forms was one of the 
great advantages of Middle English for easy narrative: Chaucer 
can use slawe 248 or slayn 256 as past participles of slee(n\ toos 565 
or too n 96 as plurals of too> as it suits his rime ; ' ther as he lay ' 
236 or * ther I lye 239; for to drede 343 or to drede 297 n. ; the 
pp. ivriten 675 or y-write 676; the infinitive in -en (gronen in 
1 20) or in -e (grone in 124), according as it suits his rhythm. 

320 that lay by his beddes syde\ i.e. they shared a room ; but 
Chaucer says so because it is convenient to repeat the rime of 313 f. 

321 scorned him fid fast e : * poured scorn upon him '. 

323 * that I will delay doing my business '. This verb let < OE. 
lettan is distinct from Let ' allow, c.' < OE. iwtan. Its intransitive 
sense seems to arise from a reflexive use, ' hinder myself. 

326. alday : * every day', * always \ l constantly 1 . Owls were 
birds of ill-omen, but apes are probably mentioned for no better 
reason than the favourite rime vt\\\\ japes. 

328 of thyng that nevere was, ne shal : supply ' be ' ; the ellipse 
is common after shal, e. g. Knight's Tale A. 1359 f. 
So muche sorwe hadde nevere creature 
That is or shal. 

Thing can be used in Middle English in an indefinite sense either 
with or without the indefinite article. In modern English we must 
say ' a thing ' or * things '. 


3 3 r -3 f 7 The Nun's Priest's Tale 

331 and have good day : ' so farewell 'a form of leave-taking. 
335 casuelly : ' by some mischance '. 
338 tyde : ' time ', not * tide ' here. 

344 fT. King Cenwulf (Kenulphm) of Mercia (Mercenrike\ died 
in the year 819. He is said to have been succeeded by his son 
Kenelm (OE. Cenhelm), then only seven years old (cp. 1. 351), 
who was murdered in Clent forest at the instigation of his sister 
Cwenthryth. Nothing is heard of St. Kenelm in documents earlier 
than the late tenth century, when his cult seems to have become 
active. His vision of a beautiful tree, which he climbed, only to 
find it cut away beneath him by his attendants, is not reported in 
the earlier authorities (such as Florence of Worcester, d. 1118), 
and is no doubt an invention, like the story of the psalter, long 
preserved at Winchcomb, which bore the marks where the eyes of 
his wicked sister Cwenthryth fell out as she read Psalm 108 to 
curse his funeral ; or the story of the dove that flew to Rome and 
laid on the altar a slip of parchment with the words 

On Clent Cubach Kcnelme, kinges bern, 
Lith under thorn, hevede bireved. 

The legend may be read in the South English Legendary (Early 
English Text Soc.), p. 345 ff. 

345 the noble kyng, &c. ; in apposition to Kenulphus^ not to 

350 f. to kepe hym iveel For traisoun : ' to guard himself well 
against treason' a fairly common ME. use of for. 

352 litel tale hath he toold of\ * he attached little importance to '. 

354 I hadde lev ere than my sherte : cp. note to 1. in. In Old 
English the expression was we is leofre * it is dearer to me ' ; but 
in ME. a new form arises : I hadde levere ' I would hold it dearer ' ; 
and later the phrase / hadde rather was modelled upon it. 

355 legende\ in its strict sense, Latin legenda 'thing(s) to be 
read', modern 'lesson' in church. On a saint's day, his story, (or 
extracts from it) was read as part of the church service. 

357 MacrobeuS) that writ the Avisioun, etc. : Cicero's Sonmiuni 
Scipionis (or Vision of Scipio Africanus Minor, d. B.C. 128), part 
of the sixth book of his de Republica, is known by the quotations 
embedded in the commentary of Macrobius Theodosius (circa 
400 A.D.). Scipio relates a vision in which his grandfather, Scipio 
Africanus Major, appeared to him and, leading him to the Milky 
Way, showed him that he would conquer Carthage. Macrobius 
begins the commentary with a classification of dreams and their 
degrees of significance, and it was this, with the philosophic and 
astronomical explanations, that attracted medieval readers. It had 


Notes 3^*7-389 

some influence in making the dream a favourite setting for medieval 
works, e. g. Dante's Dimna Commedia, the Roman de la Rose ; and 
in English Pearl, the Vision of Piers Plowman ; Chaucer's Dethe 
of Blaunche, Parlement of Fowles, Hous of Fame. In each of the 
three last poems Macrobius is referred to, and in Parlement of 
Fowles 29 ff., where Scipio is Chaucer's guide, there is a fairly full 
account of the S omnium Scipionis. Another very important passage 
for comparison is the beginning of the Roman de la Rose (trans- 
lated by Chaucer), which probably suggested the reference. 

358. In Affrikei Scipio was on a visit to the African prince 
Massinissa when he saw the vision : cp. Parlement of Fowles 36 f. 
First telleth it, whan Scipioun was come 
In Affrik, how he mette Massynisse . , . 

362 of Daniel : ' concerning Daniel ', like Latin de. See Daniel 
i. 17 and the following chapters. 

364 Joseph : See Genesis xl, xli. 

365 Wher : a short form of whether, cp. 1. 369. It may introduce 
either an indirect or a direct question, and in the latter case it 
cannot be translated by whether. In 1. 369 the question is perhaps 
direct : ' did they feel no consequences of dreams ? ' 

370 seken actes : ' search the histories ' Latin acta 'things done 1 . 

372 Lo Cresus : Observe how lo is used as an equivalent of looke, 
though they are of different origin: OE. la 4 lo!'; OE. loca 
(imperative of locian) ' look '. The reference to Croesus, without 
any mention of the Monk's Tale, is an indication that the Nun's 
Priest's Tale was not originally written to follow the Monk's Tale 
in a larger work. See Introd. iv, end, and note to Monk's Tale 737. 

375 Andromacha : This dream is not in Homer. The medieval 
Troy story is a romance derived from the spurious Latin histories 
of Dares the Phrygian (fourth century A.D.) and Dictys of Crete. 
Life was infused into their narrative by Benoit de St. More in his 
French Roman de Troie (about 1184); and in 1287 Guido de 
Columnis abridged Benoit's poem to make the Latin prose 
Historia Troiana, from which derive the Middle English alliterative 
Destruction of Troy, Lydgate's Troy Book and the Laud Troy 
Book. The most famous story of the Troy cycle, Troilus and 
Cressida, came to Chaucer from Guido through Boccaccio. The 
dream of Andromache is in Dares c. xxiv ; in Guido bk. xxi ; in the 
alliterative Destruction of Troy 11. 8425 ff., c. 

376 sholde lese : ' was destined to lose '. 

384 / may nat dwelle : Chantecler must not neglect his duty of 
crowing at daybreak. See note to 546 f. 

389 venymes : it is hard to decide between the plural noun and 
the adjective venymus which is found in some MSS. 


3 9 f 4 1 3 ^* Nuns Priest's Tale 

395 .T0 scarlet-reed aboute youre even : Pertclote, as the ideal 
hen, was no doubt a great layer (cp. Pinte's reputation Introd. 
ii), and the pinkish skin on a hen's head goes bright scarlet 
when she is laying. 

397 Al so siker as In principio : ' as true as the gospel '. In 
principle (erat Verbum), l In the beginning (was the Word) ', is the 
opening of the Gospel of St. John, and the short name for its first 
fourteen verses, which were the most popular gospel-excerpt of the 
later Middle Ages, and were supposed to have extraordinary 
powers. The Friars, quick to catch the taste of the people, recited 
them from house to house (see Prologue 25480 plesaunt was his 
In principio). Hence Chantecler refers to them as gospel-truth 
par excellence, and declares that the following sentence is as true. 

398 Mulier est hominis confusion i.e. * Woman is man's 
confusion '. A favourite form of medieval literature was the series 
of questions and answers, some instructive and some in the nature 
of riddles. Such are the dialogues of Solomon and Marcolf ; 
Solomon and Saturn (in Anglo-Saxon) ; the Emperor Hadrian and 
Ritheus ; Hadrian and Epictetus, &c. This particular answer is 
found in the dialogue attributed to Hadrian and the philosopher 
Secundus, which is reported by Vincent of Beauvais (see note to 
Monk's Tale 737 above) in his Speculum His tort al ex. 70-1 ; and it is 
often found separate (see Modern Language Notes xxxv, p. 479 ff.) : 
Hadrian asks: * Quid est mulier?' and Secundus answers : 'Hominis 
confusio, insaturabilis bestia, continuasollicitudo, indesinens pugna, 
viri continentis naufragium, humanum mancipiurn'. Chantecler 
quotes the first description, and takes advantage of Pertelote's lack 
of Latin to give it an opposite meaning. The Bible (Ecclus. xxv, 
xxvi) gives the model for the balancing of woman's qualities. 

406 fly : ' flew ' past tense ; the forms fleigh (573, 651), ./fey, fly 
are all possible in the fourteenth century, representing one develop- 
ment of the OE. pa. t. sg. Jleah ; another development from the 
same form is flaugh 465 ; and the plural flowen 625 takes its 
vowel from the pa. t. pi. OE. flugon. 

410 real and roial (the reading of the Ellesmere MS. in I. 418) 
have the same sense and the same etymology Latin regalem ; 
but real is the early French form, and roial is a later borrowing 
from Parisian French. 

413 as it were a grym ledun : Mike a fierce lion'; in fact, the 
ancients believed that a cock, by his superb bearing, could overawe 
a lion. Pliny, Natural History, x. 21 : * (superbe) graditur, ardua 
cervice, cristis celsa; . . .caelumque sola volucrum aspicit crebro; 
in sublime caudam quoque falcatam erigens; itaque terrori sunt 
etiam leonibus ', 

Notes 421-439 

421-4 An elaborate way of saying c on May 3rd ', on which date, 
for some obscure reason, Palamon breaks his prison (Knight's Tale 
A. 1462 f.), and Pandarus persuades Criseyde to hear Troilus's suit 
(Troilus ii, 56). But how is the date deduced from the clumsy 
expression ? Omit syn Marche biga?i and all is clear, for March = 
31 days ; 32 days were also passed ; and 63 days bring us to May 
3rd. The insertion of syn Marche bigan is easiest explained by a 
paraphrase: ' When (i) the 31 days of March were passed 
(complect), and (ii) 32 days in addition to them ( = also) were 
passed: then adding (i) and (ii) together, and reckoning from the 
first of March , we get May 3rd. 

421 the monthe in which the world bigan : from the story of 
Genesis authoritative writers such as St. Ambrose and Bede 
assumed that the creation took place about the vernal equinox 
(March 2 1st), and Bede, placing three of the six days of Creation 
before that date, makes March i8th the first day of the world. 

428 f. The Zodiac is an imaginary circular band round the 
heavens, and the sun's annual course is the middle of this band. 
The band was divided among 12 signs of the Zodiac, the first Aries 
4 the Ram ', the second Taurus ' the Bull ', &c., and each of these 
signs was allotted a twelfth of the circular band, i. e. 30 degrees. 
As the number of degrees in a circle and the number of days in the 
year are approximately the same, I day is approximately I degree 
of the sun's course round the Zodiac, and I month (30 days) is 
approximately the time the sun would spend in each sign of the 
Zodiac. The sun was reckoned to begin in the first sign, Aries, on 
March I2th, which was then, owing to a miscalculation, supposed to 
be the vernal equinox. Then II days of March, plus 30 days for 
the 30 degrees of Aries, plus 21 days for the 21 degrees of Taurus 
traversed, bring us to May 2nd. One day more is accounted for by 
Chaucer's somwhat moore, and an allowance for the error in 
reckoning i degree as I day. 

433 fourty degrees and oon and moore : In 1. 428 f. the reckoning 
applied to the annual course of the sun through the signs of the 
Zodiac, which gives the month and the day. Here the daily course 
of the sun from horizon to horizon is referred to, in order to give 
the hour of the day. It happens that on May 3rd the sun would 
have risen just a little over 41 degrees by 9 a. m. (i. e. pryme). 

438 * a sad mischance befell him '. 

439 Cp. the Vulgate, Proverbs xiv. 13 'extrema gaudii luctus 
occupat '. So Troilus iv. 834 ff. 

Endeth than love in wo? Ye, or men lieth 
And every worldly joye, as thinketh me : 
The ende of blisse ay sorwe it occupieth ! 


43 9-4-6 1 The Nun's Priest's Tale 

and Man of Law's Tale 421 ff. 

O sodeyn wo, that ever art successour 

To worldly blisse . . . 

Wo occupieth the fyn of oure gladnesse. 

441-3 These lines seem to be rather pointless elaboration. 
Perhaps they are meant as humorous support to the truth of the 
story, like 11. 445-7 ; the argument being : that woe follows bliss 
is certain enough to be recorded in a chronicle history ; therefore 
the Cock's mishap, which is an instance of this, is as true as a 

446 the book of Launcelot de Lake : the story of Lancelot, the 
perfect knight and lover of Arthur's queen, Guinevere. Chaucer 
refers to the French prose Lancelot, or some derivative from it. 
The early Scottish Lancelot du Laik, which has no poetical merit, 
is about a century later than Chaucer ; and the first considerable 
English version of the Lancelot story is Malory's Morte d* Arthur 
in 1470. 

447 That ivommen holde : ambiguous. Who was not yet in use as 
a relative, so that was used both of persons and things. Here that 
probably refers to Lancelot, the ideal knight, rather than to the book 
of Lancelot. Cp. Squire's Tale 287. 

448 tome: Ellesmere MS. come ; a good instance of a copyist's 
error, for in hands of the time / and c are hard to distinguish, and 
rn is easily misread as ;;/. Cp. note to 596. 

450 yeres three : presumably because it rimes with iniquitee. 

451 By heigh ymaginadoitn forncast : * foreseen by the exalted 
imagination 'referring to Chantecler's dream. Others take it as 
' pre-destined by God '. 

452 the same nyght : i. e. in the early hours of the same morning, 
which were reckoned as part of the night, hegges : here apparently 
in the general sense * fences', cp. 1. 82. 

455 ivories \ probably ' cabbages ' as in the Roman de Renart, 
Introd. ii. 

456 undren : strictly 9 a.m., but often used loosely, as here, to 
cover the whole forenoon. 

457 waitynge his tyme : ' watching his opportunity '. Note how 
easily the original sense oiwait (which is a borrowing from Northern 
French, equivalent to Parisian and modern French gnetter) merges 
into the modern sense; and how a new transitive sense of watch 
(< OE. ivszccan intrans., derived from the same stem <wak- that is 
the base of wait) develops in the late Middle English and takes the 
place of wait l to watch '. 

461 Scariot : Judas Iscariot ; for the loss of the initial unaccented 
vowel cp, Spain < French Espagne < Latin Hispania. Genyloun : 

4 8 

Notes 461-476 

Ganelon in the Reman de Roland, who betrayed the rear-guard of 
Charlemagne's army at Roncesvalles. He is the typical traitor of 
the Charlemagne romances, as Judas is in the Bible, and Sinon in 
the Troy Romance. It was Sinon who had charge of the horse 
full of men which was treacherously introduced into Troy, and in 
the classical version of the story he persuaded Priam to receive it 
into the city as an offering to Pallas ; Aeneid ii. 57 ft. 

470 Witnesse on hym that any parfit clerk is : ' take any finished 
scholar as witness (that) ; i. e. * any good scholar will tell you (that) '. 

471 in scale \ in the schools of philosophy at the Universities. 

473 and hath been of, &c. : 'and (in the past) there has been 
discussion by countless men '. 

474 bitlte it to the bren : a metaphor from the sifting or boulting 
of flour to separate it from the less valuable bran. 

475 Agustyn : St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo in Africa (354-430), 
not the apostle of the Anglo-Saxons, In Augustine's time the 
Welsh scholar Pelagius began the * Pelagian ' heresy, claiming 
that man is not necessarily sinful, but has the power, of his own 
will, to choose between good and evil. To this St. Augustine 
opposed the doctrine of grace : man is sinful since Adam's fall, and 
only by the grace of God can he do anything good. This leads to 
the doctrine that God foreknows and foreordains all things ; and 
the various attempts to leave some room for human choice are so 
intricate and so debatable that Chaucer very wisely refuses to 
meddle with them. The Late Latin form A gust- for August- is 
found as early as the first century A. D. 

476 Boece\ Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (d. 524) attained 
consular rank, and was the trusted adviser of the Emperor Theo- 
doric ; but in the end he was put to death by his cruel master. In 
his last imprisonment he wrote in prose and verse one of the 
great books of the Middle Ages, the de Consolations Philosophiae, 
which kept alive the tradition of Aristotle and Plato. King Alfred 
translated it, so did Chaucer, and Queen Elizabeth after him. It 
seems to have been Chaucer's favourite book. See notes to 477 ff. 
and 528. 

the Bisshop Bradwardyn : Thomas Bradwardine (d. 1349) 
distinguished himself by his lectures at Merton College, Oxford, 
which were put together in a huge book, de Causa Dei contra 
Pelaghtm. He adopts and develops the position taken up by St. 
Augustine : that man can only resist temptation by divine grace, 
which he can never deserve; and that God's foreknowledge is 
absolute. He was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury in 1349, 
and died in the Great Plague of that year. 


477 f 05* The Nun's Priest's Tale 

477-84 Chaucer states three positions : 

(i) 11. 477-9 God foreknows and foreordains all things, 
(ii) 11. 480-2 God foreknows, but free choice to do or not to 

do is left to man. 
(iii) 11. 483-4 God foreknows, but his foreknowledge involves 

not * simple necessity ', but only ' conditional 

necessity ', to do a thing. 

He is thinking of the passage at the end of Boethius de Consolatione 
Philosophiae. Philosophy maintains that God foreknows all things 
and yet that there is room for free-will. Boethius raises the 
obvious objection that the one precludes the other. Philosophy 
replies that the difficulty is due to human failure to conceive of 
the simplicity of God's nature, and ends a long argument by dis- 
tinguishing two kinds of necessity : simple necessity, e. g. that men 
should die or the sun rise ; and conditional necessity, that a man 
should take a walk. In the second she claims that there is an ele- 
ment of free-will ; and though God knows that the man will walk, 
His foreknowledge does not make it necessary that the man should 
walk. This long and subtle argument, which hardly stills doubt, 
should be read in Chaucer's translation. 

487 with sortve : * with disastrous results '. 

490 Wommennes conseils, &c, : a proverb of Norse origin : ON. 
kolderu optkvenna rdd, lit. ' cold are often women's counsels ', where 
cold means * baneful '. It occurs in the Proverbs of Alfred (thirteenth 
century) : cold red is queue red. For a defence of women's counsel, 
see Tale of Melibeus 15. 

493 ther as\ * where* ; cp. note to Monk's Tale 753 above. 

494-500 Such apologies are very characteristic of Chaucer, and 
he usually makes the excuses that he is merely the reporter of 
somebody else's words and that it is all in fun ; cp. Prologue 724 ff. 
Their model is Roman de la Rose 15159 ff., and particularly the 
apology to women, 15195 ff., which is followed here. 

500 divyne : the verb ' divine ', * suppose ', which is construed 
either with of or on ; see the footnote. 

503 agayn the sonne : * in the sun ' * opposite to the sun J in the 
sense that she lay full in its rays. 

505 Phisiologus : A book (or the supposed author of a book) of 
beasts, birds and precious stones, with marvellous accounts of their 
nature and properties, and a religious interpretation. It seems to 
have arisen as a Greek book of instruction in Alexandria, perhaps 
as early as the second century ; and it was soon translated into 
Latin and the chief languages of the Near East. From the Latin 
version came the medieval Bestiaries^ of which there are Anglo- 



Saxon fragments, a full Anglo-Norman version by Philippe de 
Thaon, and a Middle English version (ed. R. Morris, An Old 
English Miscellany, 'Early English Text Society). The section on 
the Fox is a fair sample ; it is his habit to cover himself with red 
earth, sham death and hang out his tongue : when birds come to 
eat his tongue he catches them. He signifies the Devil, &c. 
The Siren sings in rough weather to attract ships, and her 
sweet voice makes the mariners forget their danger. The Siren 
signifies Riches ; the Sea the World, &c. In these works the 
statements are regularly introduced by * Physiologus says '. Of 
course Chaucer is laughing at the authority he adduces. 

507 f. This picture of Chantecler his eye led to the cabbages 
that hide the Fox by the flutterings of an attractive butterfly rivals 
any of the touches of nature in the Roman de Renart. 

510 Nothyng ne liste hym: 'he desired not at all*. Cp. note 
to 1. 12. 

518 ivher wolyegonf: ivher is perhaps 'where*, perhaps the 
short form of whether used to introduce a direct question : 4 Are 
you going away ? ' Cp. note to 1. 365. 

521 ivolde : ' purposed*. 

522 youre conseilfor t'espye : ' to spy out your secrets *. 

528 Botce: Boethius (cp. note to 1. 476). He passed down to 
the Middle Ages not only the philosophy of the classics, but also 
much of their science in three treatises : Institutio Arithmetic^ 
based on the Greek writer Nicomachus of Gerasa; Institutio 
Musica y based on Nicomachus, Ptolemy, Euclid and other Greek 
sources ; and Geometria^ a lost work based on Euclid. The second 
treatise, written in five books, is referred to here. 

530 of hire gentillesse : ' their ' not ' her *. 

531 to my greet ese\ a veiled allusion to their fate. 

533 But for men speke of syngyng \ * but since singing has been 
mentioned *, cp. note to 1. 624. A polite and not too pointed return 
to the subject he himself has started. 

534 'So may I have good use of my two eyes !' a common 
asseveration in Middle English : brouke< OE. brucan 'to enjoy* ; 
cp. note to 1. 50. But here there is irony in the tag, for the Fox is 
going on to persuade Chantecier not to use his eyes. 

542 smal : ' slender ', cp. 1. 139 n. 

546 daun Burnel the Asse : another name for the Speculum Stul- 
torum or ' Mirror of Fools*, a Latin satirical poem written towards the 
end of the twelfth century by Nigel Wireker, a monk of Christ Church, 
Canterbury. The Ass, who typifies the monastic order, is its hero, 
and his name Burnel 'is a variant of Brunei (the ' little brown ' animal) 
which is still used in France as a name for a donkey. The Ass 

I75M 5 1 E 

The Nuns Priest? s Tale 

wants to have a longer tail. His physician Galen tells him that he 
is as well furnished in this respect as King Louis of France, but 
gives him a prescription and advises him to go to the famous 
medical school of Salernum for the drugs. On his way back from 
Salernum a dog bites off half Burners tail, and he loses his 
medicines ; so he decides to go to the University of Paris to 
become a scholar. On his way to Paris he falls in with a traveller 
called Arnold, who tells him this story : Gundulf, the priest's son, 
when chasing a hen out of the barn, gave one of her chickens a 
knock with a stick and broke its leg. The time came when the 
bishop was to ordain Gundulf at a neighbouring town, so that he 
might succeed his father in the benefice ; but on that morning the 
injured chicken, which had been nursing its vengeance for five 
years, refused to crow punctually and waken the candidate. 
Gundulf, arriving too late, missed the bishop and his ordination, and 
was ruined for life. The poem is edited by T. Wright in Anglo- 
Latin Satirical Poets and Epigrammatists of the Twelfth Century 
(Rolls Series, 1872, vol. i), see p. 54. 

549 Whil he wasyongandnyce : i.e. while the priest's son was 
young and foolish (nyce). 

551-3 The meaning seems to be * Certainly there is no comparison 
between your father's wisdom and judgement and that cock's 
ingenuity ' ; * of his subtiltee ' is used illogically, as if the old 
construction comparisoun 0/"had preceded, instead of comparisoun 

555 Latsei 'show me'; lit. Met (one) see', with ellipse of the 
indefinite pronoun in the objective. 

559-64 Alias , ye lordes : Such an aside may be explained either 
as Chaucer's comment, or as a mere rhetorical address by the 
story-teller, made though there were no lords among the pilgrims 
to profit by it. Either view is possible here. But as the latter 
explanation is unsatisfactory for the words to 4 chanouns religious ' 
in the Canon's Yeoman's Tale 1. 992 ff., or to *ye maistresses that 
lordes doghtres han in governaunce ' in the Doctor's Tale 11. 72 ff., 
there is no reason to accept it here in order to favour the ' dramatic ' 
view of Chaucer's work. Cp. iv, at the end. 

560 Cp. Legend of Good Women Prol. 352: 

For in youre courte ys many a losengeour. 

Both are imitated from Roman de la Rose 1034: *A sa court ot 
maint losengier '. 

563 Ecclesiaste : usually refers to Solomon as the author of 
Ecclesiastes, where there is no appropriate passage. But in the 
Wife of Bath's Prologue Ecclesiaste is applied to Ecclesiasticus, 



and it may have the same meaning here : Mr. Pollard compares 
the Vulgate, Ecclus. xxvii. 26 ' In conspectu oculorum tuorum 
condulcabit os suum et super sermones tuos admirabitur' etc. But 
it may stand for Solomon in any of his works, and refer to Proverbs 
xxix. 5, which is quoted in Chaucer's Tale of Melibeus in the 
section on flattery (B. 2368) : 'Salomon seith that " the wordes of 
a flaterere is a snare to cacche with innocentz " '. The advice of the 
flatterer Placebo in the Merchant's Tale, as contrasted with that of 
the truthful Justinus, illustrates Chaucer's point. 

565-7 Chantecler carries out punctually the Fox's suggestions in 
11. 539-42, which are very well thought out. 

568 daim Russell: see Introduction, iii, p. xxiii. 

569 ff. Cp. with what follows The False Fox, a poem of the 
fifteenth century: 

The fals fox came unto oure croft 
And so oure gese ful fast he sought : 

With how, fox, how ! with hey, fox, hey ! 

Come no more unto oure house to bere our gese avveye ! . . . 

The fals fox came into oure yerde, 

And there he made the gese aferde ; &c. . . . 

He toke a gose fast by the nek 

And the goose thoo began to quek ; &c. 

The good wyfe came oat in her smok 
And at the fox she threw hir rok ; c. 

The good man came out with his flayle 
And smote the fox upon the tayle ; &c. 

He threw a gose upon his bak 

And furth he went thoo with his pak ; &c. 

The good man swore, yf that he myght, 
He wolde hym slee or it were nyght ; &c. 

The fals fox went into his denne 

And there he was full mery thenne ; &c. . , . 

The good man saide unto his wyfe 
' This fals fox lyveth a mery lyfe ! * 
With how, fox, how, &c. 

(Reliquiae Antiquae i. p. 4.) 

570 Cp. 1. 13 of the poem just quoted ; and 11. 613, 639, below. 

53 E2 

5*7 2 T9 r T^ Nuns Priest's Tale 

572 Destinee \ From here to 1. 607 the mock heroics are rather 

581 Gaufred: about the end of the twelfth century Geoffrey 
de Vinsauf, an Englishman who spent a good deal of time at Rome, 
wrote his Nova Poetria^ a manual for poets containing precepts, 
with some examples of Geoffrey's own composition. Hence Chaucer 
calls him ironically deere maister soverayn. Among the examples 
is a lament for the death of Richard I, who received his mortal 
wound from an arrow on Friday, March 26, 1199, though he 
lingered on till April 6. It runs: 

O Veneris lacrimosa dies ! O sidus amarum ! 
Ilia dies tua nox fuit, et Venus ilia venenum ! 
Ilia dedit vulnus, &c. 

The most accessible account of Geoffrey and his work is in Thomas 
Wright's Biographia Britannica Literaria (Anglo-Norman Period), 
pp. 398 rT. 

575 f. Friday : i.e. the day of Venus, Latin dies Veneris, OE. 
Friged&g) because the goddess Frig was identified with Venus. 
Remember, too, that the sun was in Taurus, the ' house ' of Venus. 

584 ne hadde /: two syllables, the scansion being the same as 
for the contracted form nadde I. It might be better to read nadde 
here, for in 1. 303 the different scansion shows that there is no 
contraction. Sentence = ' noble sentiments '. 

585 as diden ye : Chaucer changes from the singular to the plural 
pronoun when it suits his rime. Generally the singular is used to 
address a divinity (e.g. 285, 576), a familiar or an inferior; the 
plural in polite and formal speech, as in 11. 1-39, 142-203. But 
there is a certain amount of crossing, e. g. maistow 340 ; thet 342, 
compared with ye^yow 355 f . ; and too much should not be made 
of the distinction. 

590 Ylioun, or Ilium : Troy, or perhaps its citadel. In Hous of 
Fame 151 ff. Chaucer sees depicted on the walls of the temple 
of glass the destruction of Troy Sinon and the horse, the assault 
of Ilium, and the slaying of Priam by Pyrrhus. In both passages 
he follows the Aeneid, not the medieval version of the story found 
in Guido de Columnis, which is different in many details. 

591 f. Pirrus with his streite siverd Whan he, &c. 

(i) Pirrus . . . whan he is a clumsy expression for Whan 
Pirrus . . . (ii) streite seems to reflect Latin stricta (acie), but the 
words do not occur in Aeneid ii, 468 ff. where the slaying of Priam 
by Pyrrhus is described, though they are found at 1. 334 of the same 
book. Guido de Columnis has ense nudo. (iii) In Virgil, Pyrrhus 
seized Priam by the hair implicuitque coma laevam not by the 
beard. There is nothing similar in Guido. 


Notes f 9 3-617 

593 Eneydos : the Greek genitive with liber understood. Near 
the beginning of the Monk's Tale we have ' as Judicum can telle* 
where Judicum stands for liber Judicum ' the book of Judges '. Scan 
E/nelyjdos (four syllables). 

596 sovereynly: the Ellesmere MS. reads sodeynly^n obvious 
error of the copyist ; for d in MSS. of the time is formed something 
like Greek 5, and ver is represented by v (or u) with a hook above 
it as a contraction for er. The two words are thus almost identical 
in script. Cp. note to 448. 

597 ff. Hasdrubales ivyf: this Hasdrubal was not the brother of 
Hannibal (d. B.C. 207), but the Carthaginian leader whom Scipio 
Africanus Minor defeated in B. C. 146. After a desperate resistance 
Hasdrubal gave himself up to save his life, and, indignant at his 
weakness, his wife threw herself and her sons into the flames. 
Chaucer reads her motive differently ; cp. Franklin's Tale (F. 
1399 ff.) : What shal I seyn of Hasdrubales wyf 

That at Cartdge birafte hirself hir lyf ? 

For whan she saugh that Romayns wan the toun, 

She took hir children alle and skipte adoun 

Into the fyr, and chees rather to dye 

Than any Romayn dide hire vileynye. 

His source is Jerome's contra lovinianum^ bk. i, a treatise written 
about the year 392 in answer to the heretic Jovinian, who argued 
that widows and wives were as meritorious as virgins. Jerome's 
treatise is referred to by the Wife of Bath (D. 674 f.) in a passage 
which may well describe a book in Chaucer's own library. It 
certainly was a favourite of his. 

600 She : Hasdrubal's wife, not Pertelote. 

604 f. Nero : Again one of the stories used by the Monk is men- 
tioned without any backward reference (cp. 1. 372 f. and note) ; 
He Rome brende for his delicasie ; 
The senatours he slow upon a day 
To heeren how men wolde wepe and crie. 

Both passages are probably inspired by Boethius, bk. ii, metre 6 : 
* he leet brennen the cite* of Rome, and made sleen the senatours '. 

613 and bar : the preterite bar ( bore ' is not logical here : modern 
English also would avoid the logical sequence with the present 
infinitive and bere, preferring the present participle ' bearing '. 

617 Colle . . . Talbot . . . Gerland \ Colle seems to have been a 
common name for a dog, and a diminutive of it may be the origin 
of collie. But it is also applied to persons, usually of low station, 
e. g. Colle the juggler in Hous of Fame 1277. Talbot and Gerland 
belong to the hunting tradition, for hounds were given very dis- 


6 1 7-5 2 8 The Nuns Priest's Tale 

tinguished names ; cp. the short list in the Introduction, p. xxi ; and 
the very elaborate list in Roman de Renart, Branch v, 1 187 ff. Talbot 
as a hound's name occurs in a fifteenth-century hunting song printed 
by Chambers and Sidgwick, Early English Lyrics, p. 245. Gerland 
is probably the Breton name of which Grelant is another form not 
our word * garland '. 

618 Malkyn: a diminutive of Matilda, commonly used for a 
serving-maid. The distaff appears regularly in the chase of the 
Fox ; it is the rok of ' The False Fox ' quoted in the note to 1. 569 fF. 

620 Sore aferd for berkyng of the dogges : i. e. ' because of the 
barking'. The readings of the eight printed MSS. are : 

(i) for berkyng of the dogges Ellesmere, Hengwrt, Corpus, 
Lansdowne ; for berkyng of dogges Harley 7334, Pet worth ; for the 
berkyng of the dogges Cambridge Gg and Dd. The weight of 
evidence supports the first reading, and the others maybe set aside 
as attempts to mend the metre. 

(ii) sore aferd Corpus, Lansdowne, Pctworth ; so fercd Elles- 
mere, Hengwrt, Cambridge Dd ; for-fered Cambridge Gg ; so 
ivere they fered Harley 7334 (so Skeat, Pollard), for-fered may be 
rejected at once as bad idiom. The two groups, headed by Corpus 
and Ellesmere, and generally admitted to be independent witnesses 
in some degree, are here divided. But whereas the Ellesmere 
reading makes bad metre and doubtful idiom (the best defence 
would be to take it closely with 1. 622, supplying that], the Corpus 
reading makes good metre and good idiom, for sore aferd (of) 
occurs in the Knight's Tale (A. 1518) and Legend of Good Women 
Prol. A. 53. It remains to consider the reading of Harley 7334, a 
very erratic MS.: it is clumsily phrased, makes a bad rhythm 
with the best established text of the rest of the line, and is pretty 
clearly a patching of so fered. I assume that the original reading 
was sore aferd ; that it was miscopied so ferd, and that all the 
other readings are attempts to mend the construction or the metre. 

622 * it seemed to them that their hearts broke' breek is 

624 as men wolde hem quelle: 'as if they were being killed' 
men is impersonal and best translated by the passive. 

627 a benedicitee ; ' O bless us ! ' a very common exclamation 
benedicite is regularly scanned as three syllables, except in the 
Knight's Tale A. 1785 : The god of love, a benedicitee. The 
spelling bendistee is sometimes found in MSS., and gives the usual 

628 he Jakke Straw : a construction natural enough in con- 
versation, and very common in Chaucer. Thus within fifty lines 
(E. 1692 ff.) of the Merchant's Tale we have: That she this 


Notes 6 28 -6 42 

may den . . . ; Nor he Theodamus . . . ; the wedding of hire 
Philologie and hym Mercurie. 

Jack Straw was one of the leaders of the Peasants* Revolt in 
1381, and he seems to have struck the imagination of contemporaries 
more than his colleague Wat Tyler did. The rebels planned a 
concentration on London, and their main forces were encamped on 
Blackheath by June I2th of that year. They began negotiations 
with the King's government to secure their aims, which were, in 
general, freedom from oppressive laws, customs and taxes. A 
strong party among the citizens favoured the rebels, and when the 
peasants entered the city, the jealousy of the London workmen and 
apprentices directed their attacks against foreigners, whose pros- 
perity was their chief offence. The Flemings had been encouraged 
by Edward III, and they were principally concerned in the woollen 
trade as manufacturers, merchants and skilled artisans. They were 
ruthlessly beheaded by the mobs, who are said to have used the 
shibboleth * bread & cheese* which Flemings called * brode and 
kase '. The uproar was so hideous that it seems to have impressed 
all observers. June 14 was the chief day of the massacres. On the 
1 5th Walworth the Mayor struck down Wat Tyler at Smithfield, 
and from that moment the vengeance of authority on the rebels 
began. According to Froissart Jack Straw and the priest John 
Ball ' were found in an old house hidden, thinking to have stolen 
away, but they could not, for they were accused by their own men. 
Of the taking of them the King and his lords were glad, and they 
strake off their heads, and Wat Tyler's also, and they were set on 
London Bridge.' Jack Straw's confession is reported by Walsingham 
Historia Anglicana (Rolls Series) ii, 9-10. So for a few days he 
flashes in and out of history. Two poems referring to him are in 
T. Wright's Political Poems and Songs (Rolls Series) i. 224 ff. 
For narratives of the Revolt, and the contemporary authorities, see 
Le Soulevementdes Travailleurs cPAngleterre en 1381, by A. Rdville 
and C. Petit-Dutaillis, Paris 1898; and Oman The Great Revolt 
cfij&i, Oxford 1906. 

632 box : wood of the box-tree. 

634 skriked : the variant shriked is perhaps the better reading, 
because Chaucer elsewhere has only shrighie c. For some un- 
explained reason the OE. initial group scr- seems to yield ME. 
forms with shr- (which is the normal development) and with skr- ; 
and here some MSS. have one and some the other. Note that the 
alternative form shrighte (1. 596) would not fill the verse. 

641 if that I were as ye \ 'if I were in your place', * if I were 
you '. 

642 as wys God helpe me / a regular form of asseveration, ' as 


64.2-679 The Nun's Priest's Tale 

sure (ivys) as God may help me ! ' : or it may be paraphrased 
* truly, so help me God ! ' 

652 y-gon\ the best MSS. have gon\ igon is the reading of 
Harley 7334 ; agon would be in accord with Chaucer's usage, 
cp. 1. 264. Not to be explained as omission of a syllable after 
the caesura, because here there is no pause. 

664 do me to synge : ' cause me to sing ; . 

673 ff. Cp. with these lines the Preamble to the Parson's Tale, 
where the Host asks for a fable : 

This Persoune answerede al at ones 
'Thou getest fable noon y-toold for me, 
For Poul, that writeth unto Thymothee, 
Repreveth hem that weyveth soothfastnesse, 
And tellen fables and swich wrecchednesse. 
Why sholde I sowen draf out of my fist 
Whan I may sowen whete, if that me list ? 
For which I seye, if that yow list to heere 
Moralitee and vertuous mateere, &c. 

Having told a fable, the Nun's Priest anticipates this very objection, 
and ingeniously quotes St. Paul, the same authority that the Parson 
quotes in the opposite sense ! 

673 As of a fox \ here as is best interpreted according to the 
note to 1. 1 02, and left out of account in construing. 

675 Seint Poul seith : Romans xv. 4 : Quaecumque enim scripta 
sunt, ad nostram doctrinam scripta sunt. The quotation in its 
context is hardly so sweeping. In the Retracciouns at the end of 
the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer writes : ' and if ther be anythyng that 
displese hem, I preye hem also that they arrette (impute) it to the 
defaute of myn unkonnynge, and nat to my wyl ... for oure boke 
seith " Al that is writen is writen for oure doctrine ", and that is 
myn entente/ 

On the forme Foul, see note to 1. 14. The Ellesmere MS. has 
Paul here, and there is evidence elsewhere in Chaucer MSS. that 
the Latinized form was coming into use in citations from Scripture. 

679 As seith my lord: a crux, which I cannot solve. What 
follows is simply discussion. 

(i) On the general effect of 11. 678-80, note that Middle English 
secular compositions Havelok for instance or Sir Gawain 
usually close with a prayer, whether for the audience or the reciter 
or the composer. The practice is probably borrowed from sermons, 
in which it is established from an early date ; in any event, it is 
inspired by the same spirit. 

(ii) Chaucer follows the old tradition, so that a prayer is the 


Notes 679 

normal ending of a completed tale, whatever may be the character 
of the story or its narrator. Three points are worth noting : 
(l) The prayers at the end of the first three tales (Knight, Miller, 
Reeve) have a general likeness, as against all the rest. Perhaps 
these three tales were written, or were revised for inclusion in the 
Canterbury Tales, at about the same time. (2) The serious lines 
which appear so abruptly in the Pardoner's Tale (.916-8) are of this 
nature, making the true close of his sermon. Professor Kittredge's 
interpretation of them as the expression of a sudden emotional 
crisis (Chaucer and his Poetry, p. 216 f.) does not take account of 
their formal purpose; though that purpose is consistent with 
sincerity. (3) The Parson's Tale has no such ending. But 
Chaucer's Retracciouns at the end of it spring from the same mood 
and the same tradition : they are the prayer for the author which 
naturally closes the whole work, and cannot be considered as an 
excrescence, still less as a last jape of the poet or as a forgery. 

(iii) The ending of Chaucer's A,B, C, will help to distinguish 
general phrases from those that may be special to the Nun's Priest's 

Now, Lady brihte, sith thou canst and wilt 

Ben to the sede of Adam merciable, 

So bring us to that palais that is bilt 

To penitents that ben to mercy able. 

Here the first line is parallel to 1. 679 (for it might be asserted of 
the Virgin Mary that she could and would help by intercession) ; 
the third and fourth cover 1. 680, and show that so is not a cor- 
relative to as, but the polite imperative (cp. note to 1. 177). In 
Troilus v, 1868 So make us, Jesus, for thy mercy digne, we get the 
equivalent of 1. 679 without the crux. But As seith my lord is not 
comparable with anything in other endings. As seith (St. Foul, 
&c.) is the regular way of introducing a citation from authority ; 
and since Chaucer always uses oure Lord = 'Jesus', my lord 
should refer to a lord in this world. 

(iv) There is no real difficulty in the transition from Now goodt 
God 679 to his height blisse 680, for in a prayer to God, the 
confusion between direct address and address in the third person 
is natural enough. 

(v) The Ellesmere and other MSS. contain a certain number 
of marginal explanatory notes, which are on the whole well-informed. 
Often they give references to Latin sources used, and quote the 
Latin in a form nearer to Chaucer's English than any known text 
is. Occasionally they are wrong or pointless, like the entry Petrus 
Comestor (the author of the twelfth-century Historia Scholasticd) 
at 1. 443 of our text. Opposite as seith my lord appears the note : 


The Nuns Priest's Tale 

scilicet Dominus archiepiscopus Cantuariensis. Is this Chaucer's 
own explanation ? Probably not, for no greater acumen than the 
earliest editors of Chaucer had, is required to guess a reference to 
the archbishop in the use of my lord by a priest on a Canterbury 
pilgrimage who could hardly have any other lord. Besides, it 
bears the stamp of the commentator's art, for while it seems to 
bring light, it really explains nothing : why should the archbishop 
be referred to here? It has been suggested that the archbishop of 
the time (William Courtenay 1381-96) may have had the absurd 
habit of qualifying every prayer with if be thy wtlle ; but the 
parallel quoted above from the A^B^C must be reckoned with ; the 
phrase is a common one usually meaning little more than * please ' ; 
and even if it has a full sense, in the days when predestination and 
salvation by grace were orthodox doctrine (cp. note to 1.476), there 
would be nothing absurd in the prayer * Make us all good, if it be 
Thy wilP. 

Other lines of solution are not successful. The prayer ' Make 
us all good men ' seems to have no liturgical use which would 
associate it with the archbishop ; and it is hardly satisfactory to 
assume that the Nun's Priest, feeling the need of some authority 
higher than his own to bless the company, uses the regular phrase 
for introducing an acknowledged authority, with words which the 
archbishop, as the head of the English Church, might say at the 
end of a sermon. 

To sum up, if the marginal note is right, we do not know why 
the archbishop is referred to. If the note is wrong, as seith my 
lord is possibly a remnant of some use of the story in a different 
setting, without which the meaning is irrecoverable. 

EPILOGUE : see note to 1. 43 above. 


I. Changes of Meaning. The number of words in the Nun's 
Priest's Tale which have no representatives in Modern English is 
not really great perhaps some fifty in all, and of these a few, e. g. 
bewray, hent, shent, maiigree, are known as literary archaisms. 
The real difficulty lies not in them, but in many changes of mean- 
ing. Some are obvious enough, e. g. catel ' property ' (not * cattle ') 
6l n., rente ' revenues coming in ' (not < rent ', which is an out-going 
payment for land, houses, &c.) 61 n., sentence * opinions', &c. 211, 
departen i part ' 227, casuelly ' by accident ' 335, stynte ' stop ' (not 
* stint ') 391 ; and others are more troublesome because they are not 
so obvious. Any one who is content to render his snowte smal 
139, by 4 his small snout', or rome 132, 414, by c roam ', or pasture 
419 by * pasture', is reading an imperfectly modernized version of 
Chaucer, for small, which once meant, ' slim ', &c., has become more 
general in its meaning ; roam has acquired a sense of spaciousness 
which forbids us to talk of a person roaming in a small chamber ; 
and pasture then meant not only ' grass-land ' or * grass ', but any- 
thing that is eaten, and the act of feeding itself. A reader who is 
constantly on the alert, and tries to give a precise meaning to each 
word or phrase, will find a new pleasure in Chaucer. 

2. Dialect. Chaucer lived in London, and wrote in the East 
Midland dialect of London, which by his time was becoming the 
literary language of England. Hence his work is much easier to 
read than contemporary poems in other dialects, such as Sir 
Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, or Piers Plowman. 

Note. It is important to examine the rimes, because scribes cannot 
easily alter them without being detected. They show a certain number 
of forms proper to the Kentish dialect, which extended westward as far as 
London. Thus an Anglo-Saxon etymological y became i in Northern 
Middle English, and in most of the Midlands ; in the western districts of 
the South and Midlands it often appears as u ; in Keniish it became e. 
Hence from Anglo-Saxon myrige we have normal Midland mirie, myrie, 


The Nuns Priest 3 s Tale 

5*> 35 J West Midland murie 49, 85 ; and Kentish mery (in rime) 200. 
Here, exceptionally, modern English has standardized the Kentish form, 
instead of mirry. Again OK. styntan gives East Midland stintt and 
Kentish stente : the first appears at 1. 391, the second in M.T. 745 (riming 
with sente) ; OE. lystan gives East Midland liste 510 and Kentish Ustc 
(riming with reste] 307. Sterte 601 (riming with herte) beside stirten 
6 1 1, is probably to be explained in the same way. Keen l kine' 65 (OE. 
cy pi.), is another Kentish form; see Glossary. 

3. Spelling and Pronunciation. Chaucer's spelling would 
seem less strange if we were accustomed to read sixteenth- and 
seventeenth-century texts in their original form instead of in 
modernized editions. The spelling of a good MS. like the Ellesmere 
is fairly consistent, and roughly phonetic in the sense that a letter 
usually has some sound-value. Note that (i) k often stands for 
modern hard c, e. g. kan, koude. (2) -atm- is usual for modern -an- 
in borrowings from French, e.g. daunce 74, Chauntecleer 83, 
governaunce 99, where -aun- represented the sound which we still 
have in launch, vaunt. (3) * and / are equivalent, cp. malencolie 
167 and malencolye 180; but/ is preferred in the neighbourhood 
of #, m, n, which are easily confused with i in script : hence 
regular his but hym^ right but nyght. (4) ou and ow are alterna- 
tives, e. g. lowde 15, loude 540. (5) So are -ey- (-*/-), -ay- (-#/-), 
e. % fray 27, prey 636 ; sovereyn 443, soverayn 581. (6) The long 
vowels e, d, o are often doubled : somdeel 55, wheer 133, heele 184 ; 
estaat 9, taak 177, maad 590 ; moore 'more* lyfoond (OE. fdnd) 
63, oold 107. 

Note. In jeet ' jet* 95, reed ' red ' 136, noon 'none 1 151, oon 218, 
hoot ' hot '191, soond l sand ' 501, soong f sang ' 504, the long vowel has 
since been replaced by a short. 

(i) Syllables. Words have been shortened since Chaucer's day. 
He could not rime go \growe^ because the infinitive gro\wt would 
be two syllables (see 4 below) ; and his verse shows that the 
inflexions -ed, -es were normally syllabic (except in some long 
words), e.g. hert\es 45, blam\ed 51. Notice that the suffix -ioun 
makes two syllables, e. g. a\vys\i\oun^ con\dus\i\oun ; and similarly 
pa\cience 60, e\quy\nox\i\al 90. 

(ii) Consonants. There are no silent consonant symbols, 
except initial h in French words like habundant 159, where it does 
not prevent elisior . Knyght and nyght, wroghte and roghte^ ivlat- 
som and lat, hav distinct initial sounds. Lyte * little' 166 rimes 
with bite) but could not rime with might because gh had still some- 
thing of the sound heard in German ich or Scots loch. In all 
positions r is sounded, e. g. in rather^ mordrour. 




(iii) Vowels. The best rough rule is to follow the Continental 
pronunciation of Latin : 

(a) Short #, , z, <?, u are pronounced as in French p&tte> English 
fat, fit, jot, put. 

Note. Short u is regularly spelt 0when it occurs alongside m % n, i, u 
(s= z/)^ which in script are hard to distinguish from u (see the facsimile at 
p. 24). Hence som (OE. sunt] ; sone (OE. sunu ' son ') ; love (OE. 
/ufu) ; above (OE. abufatt) ; ivoned (OE. wunad ' dwelt '). Sometimes 
o is found in other positions, e.g. boter-Jlye (OE. btittor-) 24. 

(b) Long #, z, w are pronounced as in/a/7/^r, police, rude. 

Wote : Long is always spelt ou (ow) according to an Old French 
practice, e. g. lowde, bour> broun, bacoun. 

Long e and o have both open and close sounds, which are usually 
distinguished in the rimes. Close e was pronounced as in French 
* eVe ', open / as in English ' air' ; close o as in French ' eau ', open 
p as in English ' oar'. The distinction of open and close sounds in 
Chaucer is often difficult. 

Note: Long close f is sometimes distinguished by the spelling /<?, e.g. 
lief 113 (but levers 354). The modern spelling ea indicates that the 
word had open I in Chaucer's time, e.g. in great ', meal,, beat (ME. greet ^ 
meet, bete) ; while modern ee usually represents the close vowel, e. g. in 
deep) feel> feet. So modern oo indicates ME. close 0, e.g. in sooty ', sooth* 

(iv) Accentuation. In words of native origin the incidence of 
the stress accent is usually the same as in modern English. But 
words borrowed from French were in a transitional stage. In 
French the last stem-syllable of nouns is stressed rather more than 
the others, whereas in English nouns the first syllable carries a 
strong stress and the later syllables are relatively weak. Ultimately 
most borrowings from French followed the English rule, but in 
Chaucer they often retain their original accent, e. g. solds, cotdge, 
colour^ cordl, prisoun. Occasionally the English method of accen- 
tuation is tried where it has not been maintained, e.g. rtvers 211, 
modern reverse. Sometimes Chaucer takes advantage of the un- 
certainty to use the form that best suits his metre, e.g. sentence 36, 
but sentence 584 ; ministres 292, but ministres 277 ; and so with 
the old Norse compound feldwes 260, but felaiue 264. In poly- 
syllables like suffisaunce 73, dventure 233, it is difficult to say 
whether the first syllable or the third has the stronger stress. 

Note. In English words like hevynhst 3, dawenynge 1 16, the rimes 
indicate a secondary stress on the suffix. We should expect -ness- and 
-ing- to be stronger in Chaucer than in modern English, because they are 
followed by a weak syllable -?, which gives contrast. 


The Nuns Priest's Tale 

4. Inflexions. For the most part the inflexions in Chaucer are 
similar to those of early modern English as they are recorded in the 
Prayer Book and the Authorized Version of 1611. 

Final -e. But whereas in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries 
final -e is added or omitted almost at random by scribes and 
printers, in Chaucer's English it usually has a grammatical value 
and is pronounced as a distinct syllable. It represents an Old 
English unaccented vowel, whether final (as -a, -e, -0, -u) or 
followed in OE. by flexional -n, -m (as -an, -en, -on, -urn] ; and it 
also represents Old French final -e. 

Its commoner uses in inflexion are : 

(i) In the plural of all adjectives (except polysyllables), e. g. rede 
lemes 164, blake ' beres 169. 

(ii) In the singular of weak adjectives (see 6 below), e.g. the 
grete superfluytee 161 n. 

(iii) In various verbal inflexions, particularly 

(a) in the infinitive, e. g. 1o pleyt 40, glade 45. 

(b) in the 1st sing. pres. indicative, e.g. telle 58. 

(c) in the plural pres. indicative, e. g. synge 435, sprynge 436. 

(d) in the weak pa. t. sing. & pi., e. g. wente i\^^ 381. 

(e) in the strong pa. t. pi,, e. g. rcnne 622. 
(/) in the subjunctive, e.g. helpe 642. 

(g) in the strong past participle, e.g. understonde 114. 

Note. In (a), (c\ (>), () and the plurals under (</), -en is found as 
well as -e, e.g. heeren 7, desiren \tf,Jlowen fai^faren 113, herden 610. 
Normally -e is used before a word beginning with a consonant, and -n 
before a word beginning with a vowel ; but Chaucer uses the forms for 
metrical convenience, e.g. grotun in (three syllables) 120, but grone in 
(two syllables) 124. So at 1. 266 fallen in has the variant reading JalU 
in gret with the same number of syllables. 

(iv) As the ending of many adverbs, e.g. score 121, newe 2^ 
faste 321, loude 567. 

In the fifteenth century final -e was no longer regularly pro- 
nounced in the London dialect. The extant Chaucer manuscripts, 
which date from this time, do not always preserve it correctly ; and 
early imitators like Lydgate and Hoccleve show by their broken 
rhythms tfoat they did not understand this secret of his metre. 
Dryden and Pope were in the same case, and it was not till 
Tyrwhitt's great edition of 1775-8 that the importance of final -e 
was realized. 


5. Nouns. The regular endings are : 

Singular. Plural. 

Nom. Ace. -es, 

Gen. -es. -es. 

Dat. "(e). -ts. 

Note, (a) -es is a separate syllable as a rule, except in some longer 
words, e.g. messedayes 86, hiisbondes 606 (but housbondes 148 is three 

() Some borrowings from French make the plural in -.r, e.g. pat-a- 
mours 101, colours 102, replecciouns 157 ; cp. the variant to tenatoures 
605 (footnote). Note also the plural vers l verses' 547. 

(c) -is appears for -es in fen's, hcftis J3/f., and the rime bcryis : mcry 
is 199 f. indicates that the pronunciation was not very different from 
that in modern hors-cs (pronounced -iz). 

(d) eycn 139, 395, 539, &c. (OE. pi. eagan) and toon 96 in rime (OE. 
pi. tan) retain an old plural ending, which is extended by analogy to 

doghtren 63 (OE. pi. dohlru or dohtor}. Hut toos 565 (in rime) and 
doghtres 609 also occur. On keen 4 kine ' 65 see Glossary and 2 above. 
(<?) -e often appears in spelling as the ending of the dative singular, but 
it is not often sounded, and it is hard to be sure that it had not crept into 
the nominative by analogy. A clear instance is in londt- 113 riming 
with pp. under stonde. 

(y) Survivals are the gen. sg. fader 202 (OE. gen. sg.fxdcr), and the 
uninflected plural of some nouns with long steins in Old English, e.g. 
seven yeer cold 351 (OE. pi. gear neuter), seven nyght oold 107 (OE. pi. 
niht fern.). 

6. Adjectives. The adjective, which was to lose all trace of 
inflexion in the course of the fifteenth century, is still declined in 

(i) The plural of adjectives ends in -e, which makes a syllable, 
e. g. rede lenies 164, ensamples olde 340. 

(ii) The singular of adjectives ends in -/ when they follow the 
weak declension, e. g. the brightt sonne 1 12, yoitre rede colera 162, 
Now, goode God 678. 

Note, (a) The weak form of the adjective is used chiefly after demon- 
stratives like the^ this, his^yourc ; and in the vocative. 

(d) Polysyllables usually have no inflexion, e.g.forlunat lo. 

(c) Note the shortening of the stem vowel in comparison : whitter 97, 
grettestt 218. 

(d} The adjective is postponed, under French influence, in lif present 

7. Pronouns. 

(i) 3rd PERSON. The personal pronoun of the third person is in 
the plural Nom. they, Poss. hir(e), Obj. hem. Thus of the three 


The Nuns Priest's Tale 

forms that English borrowed from Norse (they, their, them)) only 
the first had been adopted in the London dialect up to the end of 
the fourteenth century. 

Note, (a) The possessive pi. hir(e) c their ' 530, 606, is in form the 
same as the fern. sing. poss. & obj. hir(e) 61, 68, 71, 502. 

(^) his is the possessive of it, as well as of he, e.g. 4 the sonne in his 
ascencioun ' 190 ; and his is spelt with final -e (never pronounced) when 
it is a plural, e.g. 1. 137. Perhaps his toon 96 should be corrected. 

(ii) 2nd PERSON. The singular pronouns thow, thee^ are still 
used in familiar talk (e.g. 11. 324-31), or in addressing God, e. g. 
284 f. The polite plurals ye, yow are preferred in more formal 
language, e. g. I. 2, or when an inferior addresses his superior, 
e. g. 1. 264. But there is a border line in which the distinction is 
not strictly observed ; see note to 1. 585. Vow obj. is not confused 
withjy<? nom. ; see 11. 179-203. 

(iii) RELATIVE. That is the usual relative, e. g. by hevene-kyng 
thatyfrr us alle dyde 30, two men that ivolde 301. 

Which sg., whiche pi., is also used, both of persons, e. g. 58, and 
of things, e. g. 67 and perhaps 101. It is also found combined with 
that, e.g. Catoun which that was 174, or preceded by the: 
herbes . . . The whiche han 186. 

Who is not used as a relative in Chaucer, but the oblique cases 
whos and whom are so used throughout Middle English. 

8, Verbs. 


Singular. Plural. 

i(ch) com-e we com-e(n) 

thou com-(e]st ye com-e(n) 

he com-(e}th they com-e(n) 

Note, (a) The plural ~e(n) is the characteristic inflexion of the 
Midland dialect (Southern dialects have ~(e)th, Northern -(f}s). e(n) is 
proved for the original by the rimes at 11. 85 f, (see the note) and 281 f. 
On the use of -en or e see 4 note, above. 

() (e]th is proved for the original by rimes like feith : scith 145 f. 
The modern ending of the third person singular in -(e}s had not yet 
reached the London dialect from the North. 

(ii) THE IMPERATIVE PLURAL, which may be used politely 
where a single person is addressed, ends in -eth or -*, e. g. truste 
258, Herkneth . . . And se 435 f. 

(iii) THE PAST TENSE of strong verbs sometimes shows distinc- 
tions between singular and plural stems which are now lost, e. g. 



sg. fond 269, foond 63 (OE. fdnd), but pi. founde 282. But 
Chaucer uses both they ronne (the true plural form) 622 and they 
ran 615 (in rime, the true singular form) as it suits his convenience. 
So in the preterite-present shal^ the plural is usually shut (OE. 
sculori), but the true singular form shal is also used in the plural / 
shal 181. Conversely he uses besides the true pa. t. sg. bar (OE. 
bder) 613 and brak (OE. brxc) 650, the sg. forms beer 570^ and 
breek 622, which take their vowels from the plurals, OE. b&ron, 

(iv) THE PAST PARTICIPLE often retains its old prefix j/- (OE. 
ge-), though Gower, who was Chaucer's contemporary and friend, 
avoids this form altogether. Examples are y-seyled 333, y-ronne 
428. In strong verbs the pp. ends in -(e)n or -<?, e. g. understonde 
\\^founden 212, slawe 248, slayn 256, y -found e ^\6^y-dccn 654, 
writen 675, y -write 676. 

The remaining verbal forms present little difficulty, and their 
subsequent history is comprised in the loss of inflexional -, -en ; 
the loss of distinctive forms of the 2nd person singular ; and the 
loss of the subjunctive. 

9. Syntax. It is impossible to give a brief survey of Chaucer's 
syntax, and special constructions have therefore been explained in 
the notes. But, in general, the syntax of literary English has 
become more and more logical and rigid under classical influences, 
whereas Chaucer still retains much of the freedom of conversation. 

6 7 


In this tale Chaucer uses a metre that is not found in English 
before his time the rimed couplet in which the typical line has 
five stresses. He seems to have borrowed the rhythm from Italian 
models like Dante and Boccaccio, and to have realized at once its 
advantages over the couplet of four-stressed lines which is usual in 
Old French poets and their English imitators of the fourteenth 

If stressed syllables are represented by ~, and unstressed by x , 
the normal line is 

x-i | x-l | x-H x-l I x-Hx) 
e.g. Is right | ynough | to rrmch|e folk | I gcss-e 4 

llir bord | was se'rvjed moost with whit | and blak 77 

(1) That final -e at the line end (as in gesse} makes a syllable is 
proved by the grammar, and by such rimes as Rome : to me Prol. 
671 f . ; youuthe : alow the (= thee) F. 675 f . ; time: by me G. 


(2) Most of the devices used in later poetry to avoid monotony 
are to be found in Chaucer, e.g. inverted stress in 

Comth of | the gr&|e su|perflu|yte*e 161 ; 
substitution of weak syllables for strong in 

That shul | been for | youre heele | and for | you re prow 184; 
substitution of secondary accents (here represented by x ) for un- 
accented syllables in 

Milk and | broun breed | in which | she foond | no lak 78 ; 
and trisyllabic feet in 

Pekke hem up | right as | they grow? | and etc | hem fn 201 

And in | this carte | Were he llth | gapyng | upright 276. 

(3) One licence the omission of the first syllable so that the line 
seems to be a syllable short is disconcerting to a modern reader, 

Or | an a|gu that | may be | youre ban-e 194 

Sore | aferd | for be'rkjyng of | the dogges 620 

Tak|eth the | moral |ite" | goode men 674. 

Note. In 11. 162, 553 the difficulty is avoided if final -e of youre is 
made syllabic ; but it is usually silent, and the point requires more investi- 
gation. In 1. 548 that may have been added in the Ellesmere MS. to 
mend the metre. 


Note on the Metre 

(4) Elision of final -e is indicated in the above examples by a dot 
under the elided -e. It occurs before a following vowel or a weak 

h ; cp * 

A pov|re wydjwe som|deel stdpe | in &g-e 55 

This wydjwe of which | I tellje yow | my tal-e 58 

Note too also^jOf 17, she^and 64, to^habundant 159, the^A\- 
vis\i\aun 357, thc^olde 362, ftspye 522, sjtfrejiym 580. 

(5) Words containing 1 e -f a liquid or nasal in the second 
syllable, e.g. nevere, cvcre^ siker, sivcvene, sewn, hewne, oivene 
( k own ') are usually treated as nevre, swevne, sei'n, ^:c. Cp. the 
scansion of seven(e) in 11. loo, 107, 351 ; and note colcrc and 
(2 sylls.) 180, siker as (2 sylls.) 397; never erst (2 sylls.) 515. 
Words like symple, cronycle often make a syllable less than we 
should expect, e. g. in 11. 442, 479. 

(6) On number of syllables see Chaucer's Language, 3, (i) above, 
and note Ma/cro/be/us 357, Danjijel 362, E/tu'/y/dvs 593. 

(7) On accentuation, see ibid., . 3, (iv). 

(8) On variant forms used for metrical convenience, see note to 
1. 318 f., and Chaucer's Language 3, (iv) ; 4 note ; 5, note (d) ; 
8, (iii) and (iv). 

(9) The MSS. usually mark a pause within the line, but it is not 
essential. In this tale most of the lines end with a pause ; but note 
the over-running of the sense in 11. 344-60. The verse-paragraph 
is skilfully built, and Chaucer prefers to begin a paragraph with 
the second line of a couplet, so that the transition is less abrupt. 
The paragraphing of the Ellesrnere MS. is shown in the text. 

These brief notes do not profess to give an adequate account 
of Chaucer's metrical usage. They are intended to set a beginner 
in the way of reading for himself, and reaching his own interpreta- 
tion of the rhythm through practice. 

69 F 2 


Not all the words in the text are given, nor all the references to the words 
included ; but an attempt has been made to distinguish the many slight 
changes of meaning that have occurred since Chaucer's time ; and students 
are recommended to test their interpretations by reading through the 
Glossary. The formation of English compounds is usually marked, but 
etymological notes are sparingly given, because they do not always help in 
the interpretation of the text. The following contractions are used: 
OE. = Old English ; OFr. = Old French ; ON. = Old Norse ; ME. a 
Middle English; N.E.D. = The Oxford English Dictionary; sb. sub- 
stantive; pa.t. -= past tense; //. = past participle ; imper. = imperative; 
impers. = impersonal. M. before a line reference shows that it comes from The 
Monk's Tale ; n. after a line reference shows that there is a note on the 
passage. The remarks on Spelling (p. 62) should be noted. 

abhomynable, adj. unnatural, 


a-bove, adv. above, upwards, 187. 
a-brayde, pa. t. woke with a start, 


a-byde, v. wait, 290, 314. 
accord, sb. harmony, 113. 
accordant (to\ adj. in keeping 

(with), 70. 

actes, sb. pi. histories, records, 370. 
a-ferd, pp. adj. frightened, afraid, 

153, 620, 655. 
afferme, v. maintain the truth of, 

affray ed, pp. frightened, afraid, 

512, 519. [OFr. affraycr.] 
a-fright, //>. adj. afraid, 129. 
after, prep, according to, 469 ; adv. 

afterwards, 360. 
a-gaste, v. terrify, 322; pp. adj. 

agast, frightened, 123, 150. 
a-gayn, prep, exposed to (sun), 

503 ; towards (evening, &c.), 

306, 312 ; adv. back : turn* 

agayn, return, 448, 643. 
a-go(n), pp. gone, past, 264, 440. 
a-grief, adv. ill, unkindly (lit. in 

grief), I27n. 
agu, sb. ague, 194. 

al, adv. quite, 211, 283, 383; inten- 
sive, 463. See al-so. 
al-day, adv. constantly, 326 n. 
als, adv. also, 20. See al-so. 
al-so (. . . as), conj. as ... as, 397, 


altercacioun, sb. wordy strife, 471. 

al-wey, -way, adv. always, M. 773, 

an-hanged, //. hanged, M. 765, 
296, 374. 

an-on, adv. forthwith, 43, 263, 511 
[//'/. ' in one ']. 

anoye, v. weary, displease, 23 11. 

(a)poplexie, sb. apoplexy, an effu- 
sion usually of blood in the 
head, 75. 

areest, sb. arrest, seizure, 134. 

argument, sb. formal proof, 216. 

a-right, adv. favourably, 130. 

arrayed,//, disposed, 271. 

arwes, sb. pi. arrows, 1 64 n. 

as, conj. as ; see 102 n., 673 n., 
17711., M. 753 n. ; as it were, 
like, 94, 413, 27on. See al-so. 
- ascencioun, sb. ascension; rising 
above the horizon, 89 ; increasing 
altitude of the sun as the summer 
comes on, 



asure, sb. azure ; lapis lazuli, 96. 
attame, v. open, begin on, 52. 

[OFr. aiamer 4 broach a new 

cask ', &.c.] 
atte = at the, 247. 
attempree, adj. moderate, 72. 
auctorit6, sb. authority, 209. 
auctour, sb. author, authority, 

218 n., 497. 

avauntour, sb. braggart, 151. 
aventure, sb. luck, 233 ; adventure, 

420. [ad- became common in 

the sixteenth century.] 
avoy I exclam, alas ! 142. 
a-vysioun, sb. vision, 348, 357, 

a- wait, sb. ambush, 459 n. 

bad, pa.t. (of bidde) begged, 350. 

bane, sb. slayer, death, 194. 

bar,/#./. sg. (of bert) bore ; carried, 
61 3 n.; behaved, 1 06. See beer. 

batailled, //. adj. embattled, cre- 
nellated, 94. 

beer, pa.t. sg. (of here} bore, 570. 
See bar. [OK. pa. t. pi. bxron.] 

bemes, beams (in a roof), 176. 

bemes, sb. pL trumpets, 632. 

bens. sb. bean, worthless thing, 48. 

benedicitee, exclam. bless us, 
627 n. [Lat. imper. benedici(c.~\ 

berd, sb. beard, 154, 592. 

bere, sb. bear, 169. 

berk-yng, sb. barking, 620. 

beryis, sb. pi. berries, 199. 

beth, be, 564. 

bi-fel, pa.t. (of bifalle) impers. it 
happened, 235, 425, 507. 

bi-forn, adv. before, 377. 

bi-gan, pa.t. began ; with in/in., 
M. 760 n. 

bi-gyle, v. beguile, fool, 662. 

bi-knewe, pa.t. (of biknowe), con- 
fessed, 295. 

bi-tokne, v. betoken, M. 762. 

bi-twixe, prep, between, 136, 553. 

bi-wreye, v. reveal, 285. 

blis-ful, adj. blessed, holy, 284 ; 

merry, happy, 431, 435. 
bole, sb. bull, 169. 
boon, sb. bone, 633 ; blood and bones, 

alliterative tag = all iny body, 661. 
bord, sb. table, 77. 
boter-flye, sb. butterfly, 24, 508. 
botme, sb. bottom, 335. 
bour, sb. bower, bed -room, 66 n. 
box, sb. boxwood, 632. 
brak, pa.t. broke, 650. See breek. 

[OK. pa. t. sg. br&c.~\ 
brasile, sb. a red dye from which 

Brazil takes its name, Epilogue 

(note to 1. 43). 

brast, pa. t. (oi breste) burst, 452. 
braunes, sb. pi. braxvn, muscles, 

Epilogue (note to 1. 43). 
breed, sb. bread, 78. 
breek, pa.t. sg, broke, 622. See 

brak. [OK. pa. t. pi. br&con.~\ 
breeet, sb. chest, EpiL (^n. to 1. 43). 
bren, sb. bran, 474 n. 
brid, sb. bird, 115, 435. 
brend, brent, pp. (of brenne) 

burnt, 599, M. 740 ; pa.t. brende, 

602, 604. 

brouke, adj. enjoy (use of), 534 n. 
bulte, v. boult, sift, 474 n. 
burned,/"/, adj. burnished, 98. 
but, conj. except, M. 773, 484; un- 

less, 51. 

butiller, sb. butler, 368. 
by, adv. beside (her), 502. 
byde, v. wait, 319. See abyde. 
byle, sb. bill (of a bird), 95. 

dfc'. beneath, downwards, 

cas, sb. (mis)chance, 438. 

caste, v. cast, 427 ; casten hem, re- 

solved, 309 n. 

casuei-ly, adv. by accident, 335. 
oatel, sb. property, 61 n. 
pentaure, sb. centaury, 197 n. 
/certes, adv. verily, assuredly, 146. 
oerteyn, adj. (a)certain, 302, 469 ; 
adv. certainly, 551, M. 765. 


The Nuns Priest's Tale 

chapitre, sb. chapter, 299. 

cherl, sb. churl, rustic, 643. 

choys, sb. choice, 480. 

chuk, sb. cluck (of a cock), 408. 

chukke, v. cry * chuck ', cluck, 416. 

clappe, v. talk, prate, 15. [Meta- 
phor from a bell.] 

clepe, v. call, name, 104, 479. 

clerk, sb. scholar, esp. one in holy 
orders, 469. 

clokke, sb. clock, 88. 

clombeii, //. climbed, 432. 

cloos, adj. closed, shut, 566. 

clos, sb. enclosure, yard, 594. 

cold, adj. baneful, 490 n. 

col-fox, sb. fox with black mark- 
ings, 449. [lit ' coal-fox *, found 
only here in English ; but rare 
German kohl-fucks, Dutch kool- 
vos t and the description, prove 
the meaning. Examples of its 
use as a proper name in Publ. Mod. 
Lang. Ass. xxxix, 762 ff.] 

colera, colere, sb. choler, the cho- 
leric humour, 162 n., 180. 

coleryk, adj. choleric, having an 
excess of choleric humour, 189 n. 

commune, sb. : as in commune, 
in common, commonly, 234. 

compaignable, adj. friendly, 106. 

compaignye, sb. company, 227. 

compleyne, v. lament, 19, 583. 

condicioneel, adj. conditional, 484. 
See note to 11. 477-84. 

compleccioun, sb. mingling of 
humours, 158 n., 189 n. 

congregacioun, sb. assembly, 222. 

conseil, sb. advice, 487 ; secrets, 

conseille, v. counsel, advise, 179. 

contek, sb. bloody quarrel, 1 66. 

contrarie, sb. opposite, 514. 

contree, sb. country, 302. 

ooomen,/><7././/. came, arrived, 221. 

coral, sb. red coral (from Red Sea 
and Mediterranean), 93. 

corn, sb. grain of corn, 409. 

cote, sb. cottage, 70. 

countrefete, v. imitate, equal, 555. 

cours, sb. voyage, 333. 

cride(n),/./. cried, 511, 605. 

cronycle, sb. chronicle, 442. [OFr. 
cronique < Latin chronica < Gk. 
Xpoi/i/cd ' annals '. The suffix le is 
due to confusion with article, &c.] 

curteys, adj. courteous, 105. 

damoysele, sb. damsel, mistress, 

dar, pret. pres. dare, 192 ; pa.t. 
dorste, 152. 

daun, sb. master, 26 n., 205, 367, 
546, 568. 

dawen-ynge, sb. dawning, 116. 

debonaire, adj. gracious, gentle, 
105 [OKr. de bonne aire\ 

dede, adj. wk. dead, 272, 283. 
''deel, sb. part, bit; every deet com- 
pletely, 349 ; never a ded not at 
all, 390, 483. 

deere, adj. dear, 123, 240, 339. 

deigne, v. deign, impers. 415. 

delit, sb. delight, 579 [OFr. dcUt y 
now modified by confusion with 
light, &c.] 

delyver-ly, adv. deftly, smartly, 

departen, v. part (company), 227. 

desport, sb. amusement, 25. 

devyse, v. describe, 272. 

deye, sb. dairy-keeper, 80. 

deye, v. die, 140 ; pa.t. dyde, 30. 

deyntee, adj. dainty, delicate, 69. 

diffye, v. set at nought, 405 ; de- 
nounce, 390. 

digestyves, sb. pi. medicines that 
help digestion, 195 n. 

discrecioun, sb. sagacity, good 
judgement, 543, 552. 

disese, sb. pain, 5. 

disputisoun, sb. disputation, de- 
bate, 472. 

dissymulour, sb. dissembler, 462. 

divyne, v. suppose, 500 n. 

do, 0. do, cause, 664 n. ; cause (to 



be), 2540.; han to do of deal 
with, 485 ; do no jors of attach * 
no weight to, 17^, 

doctour, sb. teacher, doctor ; esp. 
one of the four great 'doctors' 
of the Western Church, viz. Am- 
brose, Augustine, Jerome, Gre- 
gory, 475- 

doctrine, sd. instruction, edifica- 
tion, 676. 

doghtren, sb. pL daughters, 63 ; 
doghtres, 609. 

doke, sb. duck, 624. 

dong-earte, sb. dung-cart, 270. 

donge, sb. dung, 252. 

donge, v. to manure, 270. 

dorste, pa.t. (of dar) durst, 152. 

doute-lees, adv. without doubt, 
assuredly, 141, 342. 

dradde, pa.t. (vidrede), M. 738 n. 

drecched, pp. distressed (by 
dreams), 12J. 

drede, sb. dread, 640. 

drede(n) (of) v. dread, 163 ; pa. t. 
dradde, M. 738 n. 

dreynt, pp. (of drenche]^ drowned, 

dwelle, v. tarry, 384. 
' dych, sb. ditch, 82. 

dyde, pa.t. (of d(e)ye) died, 30. 

dyghen,#. dye, Epilogue (n. to 1. 43). 
'dystaf, sb. distal! : a cleft stick on 
which wool was wound in hand- 
spinning, 6 1 8. 

ech, adj. each, 89. 

eek, eke, adv. also, M. 750, 407. 

eeris, sb. pi. ears, 137. 

eet, pa.t. (of etc) ate, 67. 

effect, sb. significance, consequences, 


ellebor, black hellebore, 197 n. 
elles, adv. else, 27, 170. 
endite, v. compose, express in 

writing, 441. 
engendren (of), v. spring (from), 

J 57- 
eng.yne, v. rack, 294. 

ensample, sb. example, 340. 
entente, sd. purpose, 220, 657. 
equynoxial, sb. celestial equator, 

90 n. 

er, adv. and conj. before, 196, 235. 
erst, adv. previously, 515. 
eschewe, v. avoid, evade, 572. 
ese, sb. comfort, happiness, 6, 531. 
espye, v. spy upon, 522. 
estaat, sb. condition (of life), 9. 
evere-mo, adv. for evermore, 49. 
e>er-ich-on,/;wj. everyone, 53. 
experience, sb. the test of practice ; 

actual observation, 212. 
expowne, v. expound, 349. 
ey.fl*. egg, 79. [OE. '!?; egg is ON.] 
eyle, v. impers. ail, 124, 334. 

fader, gen. sg. father's, 202 n. 
faire, adv. well, elegantly, 106, 441. 
i'alle, v. fall ; happen, 366 ; as it 

ivoldefalle * as chance appointed ', 

229. See fii. 

faren, pp. (oifare\ gone, 1 1 3. 
faste, adv. (rapidly), volubly, 321 n. 
fayn, adj. glad, delighted, M. 751 ; 

adv. gladly, 532. 
feend, sb. fiend, 520, 623. 
felawe, sb. friend, comrade, 219. 
felonye, sb. crime, 274. 
fer, adj. far, 302 ; adv., 231 n. 
fil, pa.t. sg. (of /<*//), befell, 310, 


flatour, sb. flatterer, 559. 
flaugh, pa.t. (of jlye\ flew, 465. 

See 406 n. 

flee, v. fly, 176 [OE./^w]. 
fleigh,/>a.;. sg. (of/>r) flew, 57^, 

651. See fly. 
flour, sb. flower, 97. 
flowen, pa.t. pi. (of flyt) flew, 625. 

See fly, flaugh. 
fly, pa.t. flew, 406 n. 
folye, sb. silly thing, 672. 
foond, fond, pa.t. sg. (of fynde) 

found, 78, 258, 269 ; provided 

for, 63 ; pi. founde, discovered, 



The Nuns Priest's Tale 

282 ; pp. y-founde, 416 ; foun- 

den, 212. [OE. pa. t. sg._/iW, pi. 

for, />?v/>. for ; because of, 31, 620; 

against, 351 n; with to-f infin. 

M. 76411., 13, 343, &c. ; conj. 

because, 548 ; since, 533 ; so that, 

181 \for that because M. 747, 606. 
forn-oast, pp. foreseen, 451 n. 
fors, sb. force ; ne do no fors of 
.' attach no importance to, 175. 
for-slewthen, v. lose by sloth, 330. 
forther-more, adv. moreover, 361. 
for-wit-yng, sb. foreknowledge, 

477. See forwoot. 
for-woot, pret. pres. foreknows, 

468, 482. See forwityng. 
for-yete, v. forget, 188. [OE./0r- 

gietan ; modern {for]get < ON. 


foul, adj. dirty, ill-groomed, ugly, 47. 
free, adj. generous, 148, 503. 
freend, sb* friend, 519. 
fro, prep, from, 406. [QE.fram, m 

dropped before following con- 
fill, adv. intensive : very, M. 767, 

1 68, 189 ; Jul wo, I72n. 
fume, sb. vapours, 15711. 
fumetere, sb. fumitory, 196 n. [Lat. 
fumus terrx ; the modern suffix 

is due to confusion.] 
fy, txclam. fie! 125, 142. 
fyn, adj. fine, choice, 93. 

gabbe, v. tell lies, 300. 

gaitrys (beryis), sb. pi. buck- 
thorn (T), T99n. [OE. *gatehris, 
goat's bush, influenced by ON. 

gal w es, sb. pi. gallows, M. 744. 

game, sb. sport, fun, 25, 496. 

gan, v. with in/in, forms a preterite > 
112, 237, 266, 307 n., &c. 

gape, v. gasp in agony, or open the 
mouth in death, M. 744 ; pres. p. 
gapyng, 27611. 

gargat, sb. throat, 569. [OFr. gar- 


gen til, adj. gentle, high-born, 99. 
gentillesse, sb. kindness, courtesy, 


gesse, v. guess, think, 4. 
gilt, sb. guilt, 607. 
glade, v. gladden, 45. 
glad-ly, adv. eagerly; usually, 458. 
glad-som, adj. delightful, 12. 
go(n), v. go ; walk, 50 n. ; (of 

organs) play, 86. 

governaunce, sb. control, 99 ; self- 
control, 668. 
grace, sb. (good) fortune, 393 ; 

M. 743 n. 
graunt mercy (of), exclam. (gra- 

mercy), thank you (for). [OFr. 

grant merci ' great thanks '.] 
greet, adj. great, 206 ; gretteste, 

superl., 218 n. 
greve, sb. grove, 57 n. 
greyn (of Portyngale]^ sb. a scarlet 

dye from Portugal, Epilogue 

(note to 1. 43). 
grote, sb. groat, fourpenny-bit, 

192. [ Dutch grootl\ 
grym, adj. fierce, 413. 

ha ! ha ! cry to raise alarm, start a 

chase, &c., 615. 
habounde, v. abound, M. 758 \h 

habundant, adj. abundant, 159 \h 

han, v. have, 134; pres. pi. 2, 


hap, sb. luck, M. 748. 
happe, v. impers. happen, 221. 
hardy, adj. brave, bold, 148, 273. 
harrow, exclam. a cry lor help, 279, 

614. [OFr. harouJ] 
haven-syde, sb. shore of a haven, 


heed, sb. head, 75, 646. 
heeld,/0. /. (of holde) held, 566. 
heele, sb. health, healing, 184. 




heere, adv. here, 297, 375. 
heere(n), v. hear, 7, 21 ; pa. t. 

herde, 18. 
heeris, sb. pi. hairs, 138. [OE. 

(Anglian) her ; modern hair is 

from ON. hdr] 
heet, pa. t. (of hote) was called, 

83 n. See highte. 
hegge, sb. fence, 452. 
heigh, adj. high, exalted, M. 758, 


heighe, adv. high, 651. 
heled,//. (of >&<?/<?), concealed, 289. 
hem, pron. pi. obj. them, 165, &c. 
/ hente, v. seize ; pa. t. 569, 656 ; 

PP- 2 93, 59 2 - 
herbergage, jA accommodation, 

lodging, 223. 
herbe-yve,^. herbive, coronopus (?) 

200 n. 

herkne, v. hark, 3100., 444, 
berte, sb. heart, 108 ; of herte, 

from the heart, 537 ; herte deerc, 

beloved, 123. 

herte-lees, adj. coward(ly), 142. 
herte-ly, adv. with all (my) heart, 

hevene-kyng, sb. King of heaven, 


hevy-nesse, sb. sadness, 3, 21. 
hewe, sb. hue, 257. 
hewed,//, adj. coloured, 103. 
hlghte, pa. t. (of hote) is or was 

called, 65, 422. See heet. 
hir(e), pron. fern. poss. her, 61, 502 ; 

objective hire, 71, 74; with 

impers, verbs, 68 ; see 12 n. ; 

herself, 501 ; //. poss. their, 163, 

186, 530, 564, 606, 622. 
hir-selven, pron. reflex, herself, 


hoo ! cxclam. stop 1 I. 
hoold, sb. keeping, 108 n. 
hooly, adj. holy, pure, 353. 
hoot, adj. hot, 191. 
hostelrye, sb t inn, 228. 
hostiler, sb. inn-keeper, 263. 
hound, sb. dog, 134. 

ho(u)s-bonde, sb. husband, 148, 


housbondrie, sb. economy, 62. 
howpe, v. whoop, 634. 
humour, bodily moisture, 159; 

cp. 162 n, 

hyder, adv. hither, 44. 
hydous, adj. hideous, 627. 
hye, adv. high, 565. See heighe. 
hym, pron. obj. sg. htm ; himself, 

244, M. 738 n. ; dat. with im- 

personal verbs, see 12 n. See 

hem, hir(e). 

in, sb. inn, 260. 

jade, sb. wretched nag, 46. 
jangle, v. chatter, 669. 
jape, sb. a trick, mock, illusion, 325. 
jeet, j.jet, 95- 

jolif, adj. blithe, cheerful, 308. 
[Modern jolly has lost final /.] 

t. pres. can, know how to, 

M. 745, 173; //. konne, 155; 

pa. t. koude, 115. 
katapuce, sb. catapuce, I99n. 
keen, sb. pi. cows, 65. [OE. c&, 

pi. cy ; ME. pi. kyn (whence 

kine\ but Kentish keen^\ 
keep, sb. heed, 244. 
kepe, v. guard (himself), 350 ; 

watch over, 278. 
konne, pret. pres. pi. can, 155. 
koude, pa. t. (of kari) could, 115. 

[/ in modern could is due to in- 

fluence of wouldJ] 
kyn, sb. kin, lineage, 202. 
kynde, sb. nature, instinct, 186, 450. 

ladde, pa. t. (of lede) led, M. 740. 

lak, sb. lack, shortage, 78, 

large, adj. ample, 393 ; broad, Epi- 

logue (note to 1. 43). 
lat, imper. (of lete), let, allow, 41, 

391 ; lat se, 555 n. [See note to 

1. 740 



The Nuns Priest's Tale 

latter, adj. compar. latter ; latter 

ende, end, 439. 

lawriol, sb. spurge laurel, 196 n. 
leere, v. learn, 340. 
legende, sb. legend, 355 n. 
lemes, sb. //. flames, 164. 
lene, adj. lean, 47. 
lenger, adv. compar. longer, 268. 

[OE. lengra^ mutated compar. of 

long adj.] 

leoun, sb. lion, 413. 
lese, v. lose, 376, 550; //. lorn, 


leste, v. impers. it pleased, 307. 

See liste. 
letts, v. trans, hinder, stop, 74 n.; 

postpone, 318 ; intrans. delay, 

268, 323 n. 
leve, v. leave, 419. 
levere, adj. compar. rather, 354 n. 
leye, v. lay (a wager), bet, 192. 
lief, sb. lover, 113. 
ligge(n), v. lie (in ambush, &c.), 

459; lye, 239; jrd sg. pres. 

indie, lith, 276. 
light-ly, adv. quickly, 173. 
liste, v. impers. it pleased, 510; 

leste, 307. [OE. lystan ; Kent- 
ish lestan.~] 
lite, sb* little (time), 347. [OE. 

lith, sb. limb, 109 n. 

logge, sb. (lodge), abode, 87. 

logged,//, lodged, 232. 

logg-yng, sb. lodging, 2 29. 

loken,//. locked, held fast, 109 n. 

lond, sb. land, 270; in londe, far 
away, 113 n. 

loore, sb. teaching ; wisdom, learn- 
ing, 204, 430, 584. 

lorn,//, lost. See lese. 

losengeour, sb. false flatterer, 

lowde, adv. loudly, 15. 

lust, sb. inclination, 40. 

lyk, adj. like, 96,, 98. 

lyte, adj. little ; gret and lyte^ * of 
all kinds 1 , 166. See lite. 

maad,//. made, 134, 590. 

maister, sb. master, 581. 

maistow = mayst thou, 340. 

malencolie, sb. melancholy (hu- 
mour), 167, 1 80. 

man, sb. and indef. pron. man ; one, 
121 n. 

maner, sb. kind (of), M. 771, Son. 

mateere, sb. matter, subject, 472, 

maugree,/nr/. : maugreeyoureheed 

(lit. in despite of your head), in 

spite of all you can do, 646. 
maze, sb. delusive thing, 327. 
mervaille, sb. marvel, 310. 
mery, adj. pleasant ; ther mery is 

where it is pleasant, 200 n. [OE. 

myrige, Kentish merigeJ] 
meschaunce, sb. mischance, 575. 
jneschief, sb. trouble, 128. 
messe-dayes, sb. pi. mass-days ; 

feast-days on which a layman 

must hear mass, 86. 
mette, pa. t. (of mete) dreamt, M. 

750 n., 236, 267, 317, 346, 373; 

impers. 128, 132, 312 ; //. met, 

meynee, sb. following, 628. 
mirjistre, sb. officer responsible for 

administration of law, 277, 292. 
mooder, sb. mother, 530. 
moost, adv. superl. for the most 

part, 77. 
moot(e), v. may, 50, 210, 534; pa. 

t. moste, q. v. 

moralitd, sb. moral (lesson), 674. 
mordre, sb. murder, 285 ff. 
mordred, //. murdered, 239, 275. 
mordrour, sb. murderer, 460. 
morwe, sb. morning, 259, 464,488. 
morwen-ynge, sb. morning, 536. 
morwe-tyde, sb. morning, 250. 
moste(n), pa. t. (of moof) had (to), 

226, 540. 

muchel, adv. much, 3. 
muitiplye, v. make (the world) 

populous, 579. 
murie, adj. merry, 49 ; pleasant to 

hear, musical, sweet-toned, 85 ; 
co?npar. murier, 504. See mery. 

myrie, adj. merry, 51, 202 ; happy, 
493 ; sweet, 525 ; pleasantly- 
situated, 305. See mery, murie. 

myri-ly, adv. pleasantly, 506 ; with 
enjoyment, 501. 

na-mo, no more, 64 n. 
na-moore, no more, i, 663. 
narwe, adj. small, not roomy, 56. 
nas = ne was, was not, 84, 245. 
nat, adv. not, 24, 300. 
na-the-less, adv. none the less, 205, 


ne, negative particle no, not, nor, 
&c., 19, 25 ; negative doubled for 
emphasis, 76, 574 ; combined 
with verbs as noot - ne woot y nys t 
nas, nere. 

nede-ly, adv. necessarily, 478 f. 

nedes, adv. necessarily, 468. 

neer, adv. compar. nearer, 44. 

nekke-bon, sb. neck(-bone), 296. 

nere = ne were, pa. I. subj. were (it) 
not (for), 28. 

never(e), adv. never, 32 ; not (at 
all), 17. 

newe, adv. freshly, 283. 

noglit, adv. not, 481. 

nones, for the nones, for the nonce, 
for the occasion, 567. [ME. for 
than ones, older for than ant 
* for that one (time) 1 , where than 
is OE. fxem t dat. of def, art.] 

nonne, sb. nun, 43 n. 

noon, pron. adj. none, no, 35, 216. 

noot, pret. pres. ne ivoot, know 
not, 17, 334, 494. 

norioe, sb. nurse, 349. 

notabilitee, sb. thing worthy of 
note, 443. 

no-thyng, adv. not at all, 74, 510. 

noyse, sb. noise, 627. 

ny, adv. nigh, near, 384 ; compar. 
neer, 44. 

nyce, adj. foolish, 549. [OFr. nice 
< Lat. nescius.~\ 

Glossary myr-pow 

iiygard, sb. niggard, miser, 149. 
nyght, sb. seven-nyght (old} (sen- 
night), week, 107. 
nys ne ys is not, 551. 

o, oon, pron. adj. one, 224, 393; 
218 n., 433. See ones. 

of, prep, of; from, 386, 537 ; by, 
382, 590; for, 204, 274; con- 
cerning, 36211., 563. See 840., 
163 n., 218 n., 553 n. 

on, prep, on ; with remembre, 267. 
See 470 n. 

onesjflv/z/. once, 568, 662. See nones. 

oother, pron. adj. other; that 
oothcr, the second, 232 [hence 
the (other]. 

orgon, sb. organ, 85 n. 

orlogge, sb. clock, 88. [OFr. 
orloge < late Lat. horologiwn.~\ 

out ! exclam. (come) out ! a cry for 
help, &c., 614. 

outre-ly, adv. utterly, 463. 

out-sterte, pa.t. rushed out, 281. 

paramours, sb. pi. mistresses, 101., exclam. by God ! assuredly 
1 8, 162. \Qi. par DA] 

parflt, adj. perfect, 470 n. [OFr. 
par/it, now remodelled after Lat. 

passe, v. surpass, 545 ; pass on, 
173 ; passe over, pass on to some- 
thing else, 496. 

pasture, sb. act of feeding, 419. 
'-pees, sb. peace, 669. 

peyne, sb. pain, distress, 20, 588.* 
/peyne, v. rejl. take pains, exert 
(one's self), 539. 

pitous, adj. arousing pity, 257. 

plat, adv. flatly, bluntly, M. 767. 
^ plesaunce, sb. pleasure, 100, 576. 

pleye, v. amuse, be sportive, 40. 

pleyne, v. lament, 587. 

point, sb. detail, 256. 

povre, adj. poor, 9. 

powpe, v. toot (a horn), 633. 



The Nun's Priest's Tale 

poynaunt, adj. (poignant), sharp- 
flavoured, 68. 

preeve, sb. test of practice, 217 n. 

present, adj. : lif present, present 
life, 215. 

prive-ly, adv. secretly, 253. 

propretee, sb. property, peculiar 
virtue, i86n. 

prow, sb. benefit, good, 184. 

pryme, sb. nine a.m., 431. [Lat. 
prima (hora).~\ 

pyne, v. torture, 293. 

quelle, v. kill, 624. 

quod, 3 sg. pret. pres. quoth, I, 251. 

rad,//. (of rede), read, 355, 546. 
rage, sb. frenzy, 600. 
real, adj. royal, regal, 410 n., 418. 
recche, v. interpret, I3on. 
recclie-lees, adj. disregardful, 341 ; 

thoughtless, 670. 
reed, adj. red, 76. 
regne, sb. kingdom, M. 774. 
rekke, v. care, 48 ; pa.t. roghte, 

reme, sb. realm, 370. [OFr. reaume, 

realme ; the spelling with / gains 

ground after Chaucer's day.] 
remenant, sb. (the) rest, 138. 
renne, v. run, 417 \pa.t. pi. ronne, 

622 ; pp. y-ronne, 428. 
rente, sb. revenue, 61 n. 
repaire, v. go frequently (to), resort 

(to), 454- 
yapleccioun, sb. over-eating, 71 ; 

excess (of bodily humours), 157 n. 
r,epleet, sb. full to excess, 191. 
resonable, adj. equitable, 288. 
rethor, sb. master of eloquence, 441. 

[Latin rhetor, Gk. V4 Tft> / ) 
reulen, v. rule, govern, 278. 
revel, sb. merriment, 437. 
revers, sb. contrary, opposite, 211. 
rewe, v. impers. : it reweth me, I 

am sorry for it, 331. 
right, adv. just, 18, 167, 201, 299 ; 

right anon, immediately, 52, 292 ; 

quite, 15 ; right ynough, quite 

enough, 2, 4. 

roghte, pa.t. (of rekke) heeded, 574. 
rome, v. walk leisurely, 132, 414. 

[Not connected with Rome the 

vowel is open p not close p.~\ 
ronne, pa.t. pL (of renne] ran, 622. 
roore, v. utter a hoarse cry (of 

birds, &c.), 122. 

sauf-ly, adv. safely, confidently, 442. 
saugh, pa.t. (of se] saw, 133, 652. 
say, pa.t. (of se\ saw, 348. 
sayn, v. say, 255. See seyn. 
scole, sb. the schools, 471 11. 
scorne, v. ridicule, 321 n. 
se(e), v. see ; pres. indie, pi. seen, 

360 ; pa.t. saugh, 133 ; say, 348 ; 

pa.t. pi. syen, 612 ; pp. seyn, 

5 1 5. [OE. scon, pa.t. sg. seah, pi. 

seoree, adj. secret, discreet in talk, 

seinte, adj. holy; for seintecharitee^ 

554. (But there is a St. Charity.) 
seken, v. seek, search, 370. 
sely, adj. simple, humble, 609. 
sentence, sb. opinion, thought, 211 ; 

matter, 36 ; subject, 448 ; mean- 
ing* 399 'noble sentiments*, 

584 n. 
sette, v. : selte nat a strain) by, set 

not the value of a straw on, 324. 
sewe, 7J. pursue, 571. 
seyn,//>. seen, 515. See se(e). 
seyn, v. say, tell ; with dat. pron. y 

3i5> 342, 593; for to seyn, M. 

7^4n. See sayn. 
seynd, adj. pp. (of senge to singe), 

broiled on coals ? smoke-dried ? 79. 
shadde,/0./. (of shede}, poured, M. 

shal, pret. pres. shall, must, 183; 

shall(be), 328 n. ; pi. shul, 184, 

195 ; pa.t. sholde(n), 278, 376 n. 
shal-tow = shalt thou, 252. 
shente, pa,t. (of shende}, injured, 

ruined, 75. 



sherte, sb, shirt, 354. 

shill(e), adj. shrill, 629. 

Bholde(n), see shal. 

ehoon, pa.f. shone, 95. 

shot, sb. shooting ; (a) missile (here 

an arrow), 583. 
shrewe, v. curse, 660, 661. 
sh.righte,/0.^ (plshrikeri) shrieked, 

596. See skrike. 
shul, pret. pres. pi. (of shai) shall, 

184, 193, 364. [OE. sculon pi.] 
Bignificacioun, sb. sign, foretoken- 
ing, 213. 
siker, adj. sure, 397 J com far. siker- 

er, more trustworthy, 87. [OE. 

sicor< Lat. securttsJ\ 
Biker- ly, adv. surely, 28, 505. 
Bith, conj. since, 329, 
sklendre, adj. slender, scanty, 67. 
Bkrike, v. shriek, 634 n. 
slayn, slawe, see slee. 
slee, v. slay ; pa.t. slow, smote, M. 

742 ; //. slawe, 248 ; slayn, 


Bmal, adj. slim, narrow, 139, 542. 
so, adv. (in adjurations), 22 ; so have 

//so may 1 have ... 1 300, 392 ; 

(forming an imperative), 679 n. 
sodeyn, adj. sudden, 7. 
sodeynrly, adv. suddenly, 438. 
solas, sb. solace, delight, 8, 404, 437. 
eom-deel, adv. somewhat, 55. 
aom-what, indef. pron. something, 

27, 39- 

sondry, adj. (the) various, 370. 
aong, soong, pa.t. sg. sang, 504, 


sonne, sb. sun, 112. 

soond, sb. sand, 501. [ME. vowels 
before nd were normally long.] 

soong, pa.t. sang, 504. See song. 

eoore, adv. sorely, 294; with dis- 
tress, intensive, 583. 

ooth, sb. truth, 15, 255. 

Booth-fast-nesse, sb. truth, 562. 

sooth-ly, adv. truly, verily, 586. 

sorwe, sb. sorrow, 487 n. 

orwe-ful, adj. sad, 438. 

soverayn, -eyn, adj. supreme, 443, 
581. [OFr. soverein, Late Lat. 

sovereyn-ly, adv. above all others, 

sper-hauke, sb. sparrow-hawk, Epi- 
logue (note to 1. 43). 

sprynge, v. rise (of the sun), 112 ; 
grow (of flowers), 436. 

stape, adj. pp. (of steppe} advanced, 

stente, v. cease, refrain (from), M. 

745 n. Seestynte. [OE. styntan, 

ME. stinte, Kentish stente.~] 
sterte, pa.t. start (up), 511 ; leap, 

601. See stirte. [OE. styrtan, 

ME. stirte, Kentish sterte.] 
stevene, sb. voice, 431, 525. 
stikke, sb. stake, 82. 
stille, adj. lot . . .be stille, leave 

alone, 677. 
stirte, v. jump (up), 568 ; rush, 611. 

See sterte. 

stonden, v. stand, 541. 
stoor, sb. store ; teile no stoor of, set 

no store by, 388. 
strecche, v. stretch, 542. 
streit, adj. scanty, short, 223 ; 

streite swerd = drawn sword (?), 

591 n. 

stremes, sb. streaming rays, M. 764. 
streyne, v. constrain, 47 8. 
stynte, v. cease, 391. See stente. 
substance, sb. material, stuff, 37 n. 
subtiltee, sb. cunning (trick), 553. 
sufflsaunce, sb. contentment, 73. 
suffre, v. allow, permit, 580. 
superfluytee, sb. excess, 161. 
suspecioun, sb. suspicion ; fallfh 

in s. to be suspicious, 266. 
lustres, sb. pi. sisters, 101, 502. 

[OE. siveostor, swustor\ modern 

sister from ON. systir.1 
swerd, sb. sword, 591. 
/sweven(e), sb. dream, M. 750, 

swich, adj. and pron. such (a), 1 2 n., 

62 n,, in n. 



&y en, pa.t. pi. (of si) saw, 612. 
syn, conj. since, 107, 424 ; syn that, 
since, 577. 

t' = to : fespye, to spy out, 522. 

taak, imper. (of take}, take, 17711. 

tale, sb. tale ; tale lellen of, take ac- 
count of, 352. 

talk-yng, sb. : swich t. such a dis- 
course, 24. 

tarie, v. tarry, wait, 304 ; delay, 181. 

techen, v. direct, show the way (to), 

telle, V. reckon ; ne telle . . . no 
stoor of, set no store by, 388 ; pp. 
toold, 352. 

terciane, adj.fevere terciane, a fever 
increasing in violence every other 
day, 193 n. 

thanne, adv. then, 92, 417. 

that, demonstr. : by that God above, 

*43> 151. 

that, rel. pron. who, which, that, 
206, 301 ; see M. 741 f. n., 447 n. ; 
pron. what, 2 ; that that, what, 20. 

the, def. art. with names of mate- 
rials: the jeet, jet, 95 ; the fyn 
coral, 93 ; the bttrned gold, 98 ; 
forming compound relative : the 
whiche, which, 186. 

thee, v. thrive, prosper (in assevera- 
tions), 210 n., 666. 

ther, adv. there : conj. where, M. 
754, 239,453 ; ther as, where, 236, 


ther-with-al, adv. besides, 327. 
thil^e = the ilke, that (same), 59, 

90, 107. 

tRis = this is, 291 n. 
thise, demonst. pron. pi. these, 499 ; 

the, 34 n. 
tho, pron. pL those, M. 764, 185. 

[OE./0 pi. of def. art. se.] 
thogb, conj. though, 47. 
thoughte v. imper s., pa.t. (of 

thynkerf), it seemed, M. 753, 12 n. 
thridde, mini. adj. third, 247. 
thritty, num. thirty, 424. 

Tke+Nuns Priest's Tale 

thurgh, prep, through, on account 

of, M. 748, 69. 

thurgh- out, prep, through, 452. 
thyng, sb. thing ; //. affairs, 323 ; 

see 12 n., 328 n. 
thynketh (me}, v. imper s. it seems, 

12 n. See thoughte. 
tip-toon, sb. pi. tip-toes, 541. 
to, adv. too, 159, 341. 
lo,prep. to ; fur (= Lat. ad), 676 n. 
to-morwe, adv. to-morrow morning, 

315 ; see note to 250. 
to-nyght, adv. this night, 160. 
tool, sb. weapon, 150. 
toon or toos, sb. //. toes, 96, 565. 
torment, sb. anguish, 600. 
torne, turne, v. turn (over) 244 ; 

change to the opposite, 637 ; t. 

agayn, return, 448, 608, 643. 
towaille, sb. towel, M. 755. 
traisoun, traysoun, sb. treachery, 

SSL 557- 

trespas, sb. wrong, 654. 

trewe-ly, adv. truely, 356. 

trone, sb. throne, M. 770. [OFr. 
trone ; modern th is due to classi- 
cal spelling, Lat. thronum.} 

tweye, tweyn, num. two, 79, 139. 
[OE. masc. twegen.~] 

twies, adv. twice, 246. 

tyde, sb. time, 330, 338 n. 

under-stonde, //. understood, 
learned, 1 14. 

under-take, v. give one's word, 445. 

undren, sb. time up to noon, 456. 

un-to, prep, in addition to, 280. 

un-war, adj. unexpected, M. 774, 

up, /;-</>. upon ; in asseverations : up 
peril . . . upon peril ... 178 (cp. 
' upon pain of death '. [OE. up- 
pan, prep. ; which in ME. coincides 
in form with the adverbs, OE. up, 


. : make shoutes upon, raise 
hue and cry after, 631. 
up-right, adv. face upwards,